What I Learned from Tommy | Organization for Autism Research

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In this piece, sibling Eddie Grabill reflects on his experience growing up with his little brother, Tommy, who is on the autism spectrum.

My little brother Tommy is two years younger than me, and he has autism. 

Growing up with Tommy was very difficult.  We went to the same high school and he would always come home from school screaming and crying.  It often felt awkward to be with him in public and at school.  Everyone would look at him in a weird way.  They knew something was “wrong” with him, and they judged him differently from everyone else.

I did whatever I could to make him happy, but it often felt like there was nothing I could do.  This made me frustrated; I would scream at him and isolate myself from him.  I will always regret my negative actions towards him.

To anyone who has a family member or friend on the autism spectrum: I understand your frustration. I respect the sacrifices that you have made for your loved ones. I always used to pray that Tommy’s autism would go away – that he would be able to live a normal life, like the rest of us.  I now understand that these feelings and frustrations are very common to experience.

Now, when I reflect on my relationship with Tommy, I know that he has taught me the true meaning of kindness.  I used to take Tommy on short drives every night.  We would drive around the block, and we’d listen to all his favorite songs.  On those nights, when I looked over at him, I would always see a big smile on his face.  Taking Tommy for one of those drives – an activity that many take for granted – was something that would always make him happy.  I have learned that much of what I do might seem simple or small at first, but it can end up having a real impact on my little brother.  Tommy has taught me the importance of the little things in life.

My brother has also made me realize how lucky I am to be in the situation I am today.  Whether it is hanging out with friends or playing sports, I have learned to never take anything for granted.  Tommy may not have all of the same opportunities that I do, and this knowledge has really humbled me and has given me perspective.

I am very proud of Tommy.  He has grown up, and has become an incredible person, despite all the obstacles he faces. He is one of my best friends and I couldn’t imagine my life without him.  He is very nice, funny and special.  I admire his work ethic – he is one of the hardest-working individuals I know. 

Even though it has been frustrating at times, I am very lucky to have a brother like Tommy.  He has taught me the true meaning of life.  Life is about making sacrifices and spending time with loved ones.  Doing the little things in life can have a big impact on others.  I learned that from my little brother Tommy.

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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