I still remember when my parents told me my brother was autistic. I was five years old and I didn’t understand what autism was at all. I just remember they told me about his diagnosis and they had a negative, upset tone in their voice.
Why is this such a sad thing, I thought to myself. He’s still my little brother.
Ever since I could speak, I was asking for a little brother, and nothing was going to make me not love the little brother that I got.
Not to say that growing up with a younger autistic brother wasn’t difficult for me.
When I was young, I always wanted to go to Disneyland. All of my friends in elementary school had gone already, and I felt like I was the only one left to go to Disneyland. It wasn’t until I was 12 did we finally go as a whole family. But looking back on it, I am glad we went so late in my life so I can still vividly remember it. I was also lucky to even have had the chance to go at all.
It was also frustrating for me at times that my little brother got more attention than I did. I never did think it was unfair, I always understood that he had a major disadvantage being autistic and non-verbal, but I sometimes felt like no one would care that I was in the room or not.
But even though I sometimes felt a tiny ounce of jealousy in that regard, there was nothing that would stop me from standing up for my brother.
I knew a fair amount of older siblings who would get embarrassed by their younger, autistic sibling. There was one girl I knew whose autistic sister was getting picked on in the locker room of the local pool. The girl went in, saw her sister curled up on the bench in tears, and all she could do was blush and walk back out of the locker room.
I still remember being at a community event, and the boys that verbally bullied me in middle school were verbally bullying my brother. My dad walked in and told them off, and I heard about it not long after that. I don’t get angry often, but this infuriated me. I get most infuriated by people who make fun of, or even give my brother an evil look.
This harsh judgment has also been helpful with boyfriends and friends. I judge all of my new good friends and significant others based on how they treat my brother.
Having an autistic brother creates a different kind of sibling relationship, but it also is quite similar to any regular one. I feel incredibly lucky to have my little brother in my life, and I would not be the hard-headed, smart, selfless person I am today if it wasn’t for him.
Siri Smith is originally from North Bend, Washington. She is currently living in Seattle, where she is studying creative writing at Seattle University. She hopes to utilize her love for reading and writing, her nurturing personality (which she has gained because of her brother), and adoration for quality education to become a high school language arts teacher at a Waldorf school. Siri also hopes to someday write a memoir about her experience growing up with a younger autistic brother.
This article was featured in Issue 36 – Managing School Stressors