ASU gymnastics hosts Autism Awareness meet vs. Utah

ASU gymnastics sophomore Erin Hamister is in the midst of an impressive season. She’s also in the midst of the battle against autism.

Hamister’s 18-year-old sister, Alyssa, is autistic. The Saturday, Feb. 1 meet against Utah will promote awareness for the disorder.

A vault specialist, Hamister notched high scores in all three meets she has competed in this season, helping make vault ASU’s most consistent event.

Coming into Saturday’s showdown with national power Utah, Hamister’s contributions on vault will play a large role in determining whether or not ASU can knock off the visiting Utes.

But the meet will mean a lot more to Hamister.

Growing up only two years older than her sister, Erin learned a lot about the effects of autism.

“It was different how she would understand things,” Hamister said. “We can communicate, but I can’t really have a conversation with her about stuff I’m going through, which I kinda missed out on as being a sister. But I also got more cooperation skills that I couldn’t get from anyone else.”

As described on autismspeaks.org, autism is a general name for a group of disorders in brain development. The diseases are characterized in varying degrees, including trouble with social interaction, verbal and non-verbal behaviors and repetitive behaviors. Difficulties in motor coordination and physical health issues are also associated with autism spectrum disorder. While the disease limits what someone can do, often they have excelled skills in arts, music or math.

“She can make words, she definitely can’t make sentences,” Hamister said. “But she has different ways of communicating. She’s ridiculously smart, a different kind of smart than we’re used to.”

The cause of autism is still unknown, but because it runs in families it is commonly known as a genetic disease.

“I know that it’s one of the hardest diseases to treat. No one really knows where it comes from. It’s good to get the name out,” Hamister said.

While growing up with someone with autism was tough on her and her family, Erin appreciates the perspective it brought her.

“It definitely helped me to have more compassion and understanding for people that I would not have been exposed to normally,” Hamister said. “It just gave me a different perspective on everything.”

The Autism Awareness meet will take place Saturday at 1 p.m. at Wells Fargo Arena. The gymnasts will wear ribbons in support, and pamphlets will be handed out to patrons.

“It’s nice because there aren’t many ways I can tell her that I appreciate her,” Hamister said. “She won’t really know what this means, but it will mean a lot to my parents, because they’ve devoted their lives to her.”

Reach the reporter at stheodor@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @shane_writes