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My experiences of having an autistic brother aren’t anything special. I am not a saint. My parents aren’t saints. Strangers have an assumption that helping people with autism and raising a son with autism makes you an angelic, divine person. That they would never dare to do anything like that. We are ordinary people. My brother is human. 

My early experience with my brother, S, was rocky. His language of love was through playfulness, but for toddler me, it felt somewhat aggressive. He would laugh with glee even though I would sometimes get hurt in the process. Because of that, I was fearful of him, hiding behind my mother at all times.

When we were younger, S’s struggles expressing himself normally resulted in temper tantrums when he didn’t get his way. In reality, he just couldn’t speak his mind. My parents tried their best, but there was nothing they could do to prevent it. I resented my brother for a long time. Every action he did irked me, and child-me hated him. Despite this, he still portrayed interests that fascinated me, such as his impeccable memory of directions and routes. Whenever we drove, he would repeat our route like the GPS. I’ve never met anyone who can match his abilities, not even Einstein. 

As I got older, his personality calmed down, and he became more introverted, constantly enjoying his own company. He was still a happy and go-lucky guy, but he preferred his space, his particular food (rice with tomatoes), and just doing things his way. He’s fiercely independent and is so harmless that he wouldn’t hurt a fly. I believe it’s just his impulses, but I feel more at ease and relieved of the childhood resentment in my heart.  

Growing up with S has taught me a lot of qualities.  I’ve learned to be more patient with him. When I was younger, I used to be annoyed when doing his chores, making his bed, and cleaning his room. However, I believe that has brought character development. I would take care of him like my son, listen to his interests, and watch over him after school. Although I used to drag, whine, and scream about it, I’ve eventually come around and started having a better connection. I realized how similar we are. We both have a big sweet tooth, enjoy researching, and love listening to music. S would often play our favorite tunes on the computer, uplifting the mood of the whole house. In a way, I feel like I influenced him too. Eventually, I taught him how to do basic chores, such as making his bed or putting his plate away, but we are still progressing.  

Being his sister also made me realize the normalization of ableism in this world. I’ve noticed in public that people would act like he was an animal, or a monster. It was unpleasant to watch; they would look at his jittering movements and stuttered speech and act as if he was beneath them. People would make disgusted faces, and it would always irk me. As a result of this, I’ve realized the treatment of other “atypical” people, including people with genetic disorders, neurodiversity, and deformities. They would be seen as a laughing matter, as a type of sick joke. Schools were a breeding ground for this environment. 

People would always attempt to ask out neurodivergent people at school “as a joke.” Some of them would be used as a laughing-stock for the school or friends. Sometimes people with autism cannot tell when someone is joking or not, so for people to be joking like this is cruel. I would think of people doing this to my brother, which would enrage me. 

Growing up with S and four other relatives on the autism spectrum, I’ve realized how vastly different people with the same neurodivergence are. Their interests varied dramatically, from S liking maps and locations to my cousin enjoying Thomas the Train. My cousins and my brother act as differently as night and day. Clear the common misconception of autism being a single spectrum, with some people on the high end and others being subservient. The truth is, autism has varying degrees of how it affects people socially. Instead of having a homogeneous representation in society, autism is different everywhere! 

Despite this, I appreciate the school’s efforts to support people with autism and other disabilities, such as our annual Special Olympics basketball game. This event brings the school together to help athletes, like my brother, and give them a moment to shine in the spotlight. The glee on my brother’s friends’ faces when they reach the court and hear the cheers, excitement, and support of the crowd is what makes the event special. I love how the Special Olympics provides a platform like an NFL player during the Superbowl, because everyone deserves the spotlight. 

Honestly, I am forever grateful I can call my brother my own. I am thankful for the experiences we have shared, the ups and downs, and for watching him grow up in my eyes. Being with S made me realize and understand the normalization of people with disabilities and helped me recognize when to watch what people are saying. My life experiences opened my eyes. I am not a particular person for caring and realizing actions; I am just a sister. 

Lulia Beyene is a highschooler from Fairfax County, Virginia. She plans on majoring in neuroscience and minoring in business in college. Her favorite activities include biking, baking, and listening to a variety of music.