Sharon became my favorite sister when she was born a few hours shy of my sixth birthday. This was about the same time I made the declaration I was going to become a teacher. As Sharon grew she could serenade the cows in the pasture with her beautiful voice and perfect pitch but no one could understand a word she spoke. When she was distressed, which seemed quite often due to not getting something she wanted, loud noises or who knew what, she would scream and cry. Fortunately she had five siblings who would come to her rescue. She had a way at an early age of gathering us around her. Sharon was diagnosed with a disability when she was five and our family learned to navigate the launching of special education programs in the schools thus my interest in this area of education was born. Sharon was later identified as having autism. Sharon learned to speak as she grew older and she enjoyed many things like church, dancing and listening to music, summer camp and going to concerts especially to see her favorite singer Neil Diamond. Sharon loved her nieces and nephews. Some have grown to become volunteers with people with disabilities or have chosen a career in the field. No doubt due to Sharon’s influence.
In her late thirties, Sharon was told she had Neurodegeneration with Brain Iron Accumulation, a rare disease. This is what ultimately led to Sharon’s early death a week before her 41st birthday. Throughout her life and valiant fight for life, our family rallied around Sharon and learned even more about love, courage and strength from this remarkable woman.
During this time period, as Sharon bravely clung to life, I learned about the Autism Tissue Program at an autism conference. My family and I knew that this was a program in which Sharon could leave her legacy as a way to contribute to the research of this complex condition. Sharon Haugen is listed on the Memories of Hope page.
Carolyn Hare and Jane Pickett with ATP, now Autism BrainNet, made the whole process easier during this difficult time. We would like to encourage others to consider the Autism BrainNet program https://autismbrainnet.org/ It is much easier to sign up for the program before a time when emotional decisions are being made. There are links on this website that will give the reader the latest information on the causes of autism and the implications for the future for those effected by this condition.
Sharon’s legacy lives on not only through the donation she made but more importantly through the imprint that she made on our lives. We have a better understanding and caring for people who are different and perhaps appreciate our own differences and gifts a little more.