It’s often pretty interesting to me to watch the reactions of my peers when they first find out that my brother has autism. It’s usually not something I mention to people, because I don’t want their pity, and he’s incredibly high functioning. Plus it usually doesn’t come up otherwise.
In fact, Reese and I were in the very same gifted program in middle school. But none of that really processes when one of my friends learns about my brother. The responses vary to some degree. There’s the occasional questioning—“Really? But he seems so normal”—and then every so often I’m met with the response that they have an autistic sibling, too.
However, the majority of my peers react with a strong lack of words, accompanied by an uncomfortable shift in posture. And every single time that someone finds out about this one thing that makes my brother different, regardless of what they’re doing or saying, they give off an aura of, “That sucks.” They automatically assume that it’s been a rough road that I’ve been traveling on, and that’s what bothers me the most.
What they don’t realize is that having a brother with autism for me is the same as having autism for him; it’s not a disadvantage, just a difference.
It’s not any harder for me to live with an autistic sibling than a normal sibling. It’s what I’m used to. My brother has been diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), anxiety, and OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder). But to me, that’s just what sibling life is like.
Don’t get me wrong, we still fight like normal siblings, and he gets under my skin more than anyone else in the world. For example, as I write this, there is a 10-hour loop of a certain video game theme blaring from the bathroom because that’s what Reese likes to listen to in the morning. While I normally enjoy this type of music, it’s really hard to write when the blaring music is the only thing going through your head.
The other thing that can make me crazy is how little social interaction my brother wants. I’m a very social person. I have lots of friends, I love going places with my buddies and hanging out. So naturally it bothers me to see that he’d much rather talk to people on the Internet than go and hang out with friends in the outside world.
As my brother has gotten older, his world has come to revolve around a certain blog that he enjoys. At first I was concerned that he’d never learn to be social because of his constant desire to be online. But over time, Reese has become one of the most respected people on this blog. Every day, he is on Skype talking with his online friends about various subjects. He spends so much time on the blog that it’s become difficult for me to find time to spend with him. As a result, I end up really cherishing the time we spend together.
Even though we annoy each other to no end, I think that having a brother with autism has made me a more compassionate person overall. And as I continue to show him the ropes in life, I’ll keep learning from him, too.
For More Perspectives on Living With Autism: