Tommy and the Transition to College | Organization for Autism Research

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In this piece, sibling Eddie Grabill describes his transition to college and separation from his younger brother, Tommy, who is on the autism spectrum.

When I left for college, I was very nervous about how Tommy would act.  Tommy has struggled with dealing with changes his entire life.  It is hard for him to understand this aspect of life; as his days are based on a set schedule, he often becomes frustrated when anything unexpected comes up. 

When I first arrived at school, I was constantly thinking about Tommy.  I had always assumed that this change would have a negative impact on his life.  Unfortunately, there was nothing I could do — I was far away from home, and I wasn’t in a position to come home often.

Luckily, this change didn’t hurt Tommy in the way I had expected it to. My parents told Tommy that Eddie was growing up and was moving onto the next stage of his life.  To my surprise, Tommy was comfortable with this change and understood the significance of growing up and becoming an adult.

Leaving Tommy to go to college was a very difficult time for me.  He’s my best friend, and I was constantly worried about how he would deal with the change. 

Now, when I reflect on this time period, I realize I have learned the importance of communication.  While I was at school, I would constantly talk to Tommy over the phone and send him emails.  Tommy always appreciated talking to me.  Even though it was tough that we were far apart, simply calling him and asking him about his day went a long way in helping Tommy deal with this change. 

I have learned through Tommy that communication is a powerful tool that is often undervalued.  Maintaining constant contact with anyone builds strong relationships and develops you personally.  It shows the other person that you are making an effort to reach out to them, that you care about them.

In addition, Tommy has taught me the significance of spending time with family members and friends.  Coming home from college for break and seeing how happy Tommy was to see me made me feel very special.  Even though I came home for a short period of time, it was great spending time with him and he loved seeing me.  This experience made me understand the significance of spending time with loved ones.  There are not many opportunities in life where everyone is spending time together.  Simply being there with Tommy and my family made me realize the importance of this moment.

I am very proud of his ability to manage this huge change in his life.  It showed me once again how intelligent he is, and that he wants me to grow up and be successful in life.  In addition, Tommy showed me the importance of communication and spending time with loved ones.  There are moments in life where you aren’t always with your family but that doesn’t mean that your relationships can’t continue to grow.  Communication goes a long way in strengthening these relationships, making the moments when you are altogether more memorable.


Eddie GrabillAbout the Author

Eddie Grabill is the brother of Tommy Grabill who was diagnosed with autism.  Eddie attended Dartmouth College where he was a Government Major.  Today, he works in the Finance Transformation Department at PenFed Credit Union.  He became a blog contributor to OAR in the summer of 2019.


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