May Institute

Siblings Teach Each Other About Life

12/16/12

Kyle didn’t believe his sister when she kept telling him she worked in the same building where he went to school. Then, one day, Maggie showed up in his classroom at May Institute.

It was Maggie’s 21st birthday. Looking up from his work, Kyle saw Maggie standing only a few feet away. Confusion that said I can’t-believe-she’s-here crossed his face at first, followed by a smile that lit up the room.

It took no time for Kyle to close the short distance between him and his sister, greeting her with a huge bear hug.

“This is my sister. It’s Maggie’s birthday today,” he announced several times to everyone while holding on to her hand tightly. Kyle quickly broke into the “Happy Birthday” song and gave Maggie a card he had made but was saving for that night when the family would be all together.

“Kyle had never seen me at his school before,” Maggie explained. “He associates me with home and hanging out together, so it took him a few moments to process that it was actually me in this different context.”

Time Together

At the time, Maggie was working as a community outreach intern at May Institute, during her summer break from the University of Maine. Maggie’s homecomings from Maine, or even at the end of a workday, are always high points for Kyle, who looks forward to his one-on-one time with her. Trips to the Cape, Zumba class, and Friendly’s are always at the top of Kyle’s list.

Their days at the pool together led to an opportunity for Maggie to teach a swim class for children with special needs. “I’ve learned so much from my brother that I feel I can give back to others,” Maggie said.

Meeting Challenges Head-On

Over the past 17 years, Kyle has faced and overcome more challenges than many teenagers his age. In addition to being diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, Kyle also has a diagnosis of mosaic Down Syndrome, and was successfully treated for leukemia and congestive heart failure as toddler.

“All those things are parts of Kyle’s life — and my family’s life experience — but they don’t define Kyle as a person or us as a family,” Maggie shared. “The changes and growth we have seen in Kyle over the past five years since he has been at May Institute have been really incredible. My family couldn’t be happier with what his teachers have done to help him to blossom into the very active, funny, loving young person he is today.”

Teaching Others

Kyle’s comfort level in social settings, along with his outgoing personality, have helped him gain acceptance from others. Even so, he still faces hurtful situations — as do many of his peers on the autism spectrum, who struggle sometimes with verbal, emotional, or physical challenges.

“You don’t really know Kyle until you meet him,” Maggie shared. “Unfortunately, a lot people will put individuals like Kyle in categories. As a result, they miss a lot about who the person really is.”

Now a college senior, Maggie uses her experiences with her brother to educate her peers about how to be more respectful and sensitive of others.

“People don’t realize what goes on behind the scenes when you are caring for a loved one with special needs. They use words inappropriately and assume the worst," Maggie added. "I do what I can to show them how they’re just making themselves look bad. Most people do feel badly afterward and that’s good because hopefully next time they’ll act differently."

Looking to the Future

Kyle has also taught Maggie that the journey is far from over. He continues to grow, mature, and shine his unique light on all those around him. For Maggie and her family, it’s about being there for his next great moment.

And Maggie has learned that wishes do come true.

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