If you’ve lost your calculator and need big numbers adding up, multiplied or dividing, my brother can do this in seconds, every time getting the answer correct.
If you would like to know who won a pool tournament, my brother can tell you the exact day, month and year the game was played and the weather of that day, if you felt so inclined to know.
If you want to know anything apart from this though, you need to ask me; his big little sister who knows everything because I have a university degree. This includes knowing the words he is thinking of but cannot say. Only the other day, I received a phone call asking what the word is that he was thinking of but could not say – imagine his disappointment when I couldn’t read his mind over the phone.
My brother can listen to a list of 100 numbers and recite them to you backwards. My brother has unique abilities unlike anyone I have ever met. My brother is amazing. My brother is one of a kind. My brother is priceless. My brother finds it difficult to fit society’s “norms” and his amazing abilities often go unnoticed and unappreciated. My brother struggles with day-to-day life. My brother has autism.
I have had a unique life. I grew up with an older brother whose needs were always more important then mine, a mum that had fibromyalgia and arthritis limiting her physical ability, and a younger sister and brother who needed love and care and to know that they mattered. The world did not accept my brother; strange looks while shopping, uncomfortable comments when we were picked up from school, questions from the teachers. The uncomfortable looks my friends would give me when I eventually invited them over to play and they witnessed a meltdown where my mum would physically restrain my brother for both his safety and ours. You learn to expect the lack of acceptance from society, but when family members pass comments this is harder. Grandparents did not understand why my brother wouldn’t communicate with them, why he wouldn’t give hugs and kisses the way we would… why he wasn’t developing the way we were.
Sometimes, when you have a sibling with a disability, you feel the pressure to compensate for it. I wanted to be the best at everything and go above and beyond in every little detail of my life. I have had a heightened awareness of the need to succeed since I can remember. I wanted to be the best dancer – I got award after award. I wanted to be the best footballer, so I joined a team and won matches. I wanted to be the best swimmer, so I swam, trained, raced and qualified to teach swimming. I wanted to be an A* student, so I revised and studied until I completed my masters degree. I wanted to be the best for my mum, for my brother – this was all self-provoked and not at all from my mum. I selfishly considered myself the only possible proof that my mum was an amazing mum and could raise a “good” child. Who else did she have? My little sister and brother were so small. Who would look after my mum one day? Who would make my family proud? I realise now that I could not have been more wrong.
To be a little sister of a brother with autism means every day is crazy and you never know what to expect. It means that the inevitable truths of having an older brother (such as them always protecting you, being there when you need them, accidentally deleting there saved video games, going on a night out for the first time together, having special nicknames for each other) is not true for us. I am his big little sister who will protect him from the unaccepting world. I promise to do my best to educate as many people as possible in autism. I promise to be a support to every autistic individual I come into contact with and to use our experiences to help others.
Life is chaotic. I grew up very quickly. Complaining about staying up later or wanting the latest trainers seems completely insignificant when you see your sibling struggling with such basic life skills. You deal with a lot of emotions and anxieties that would never usually cross the mind of a young person. What are they saying? Will he like this? Please stop screaming and flapping. Please stop kicking and punching people. You hate your sibling, you love your sibling. It is so overwhelming, but that’s ok. You lose a lot – that holiday that can not happen because it would overwhelm him, going to playgrounds because it may be too much and he may hurt someone, having friends over because that’s not his routine, surprises because everything is carefully planned to fit a routine he can handle. I wondered why he would not use a pencil like everyone else, why he did not play like everyone else, why he couldn’t just leave the swimming pool without tears and screams. I wondered if he even knew I was his sister and what it meant for him to be my big brother. It means he will always have someone looking out for him, worrying about him and wishing the best for him.
He proved everyone wrong and made us so proud. He spoke when people said he’d never speak. He made friends when doctors said he couldn’t socialise. I wondered if he would ever ride a bike… he now drives a car. I am the luckiest little sister in the world to have been blessed with the honesty, innocence and joy that someone with autism brings. Disabilities bring you back to the bare basics where being kind, helpful, patient and loving are the most important qualities.
Yes, there are a lot of things I do not know, but I do know that my big brother has the strength to face challenges we will never face but that he can do anything. And if he struggles with things for the rest of his life, at least he will have never given up his constant internal battles and will have us forever and always.
Society fears what they do not understand. Understanding autism is the key to acceptance, to understand that everyone is different and some people just need extra help, extra time, extra attention and a little extra love. While today may be a bad today, tomorrow may be better. The darkness may seem all-consuming, but something will bring you out of that. Whether it’s a smile, a look, a hug, a rare moment of shared affection and development – that makes the fight worth it.
Autism exposes some tough and scary feelings. It forces you to reconsider and abandon the life you envisioned and begin a new, untravelled, unplanned path. You do not know where this path ends, but you grab your family’s hand and take the path together. My mum is the most amazing person ever and her love and dedication to my brother and our family have enabled us all to grow into young adults with the utmost love for one another.
And to my brother – I love you more than words will ever be able to express. While times are difficult and you annoy me a lot, I would not trade you for the world. I will forever ensure your food doesn’t touch on the plate and that no one touches your drink. I would go to the end of the world to make life a little easier for you. Every day I go to work to support individuals that are sometimes like you, but sometimes they are nothing like you – I think about how you helped me help them. Every day I think of you and remember that I am the person I am today because I got to be your little sister.
To find out more about autism, visit our About Autism page.