As you guys know, my Mom has been writing every day for Autism Awareness month. She asked me to write up something too as a brother, so I did... It's kinda long. I'm sorry about that, but I am passionate about all of it... So buckle up!
- Autism from a brother, who is also an ally, playmate, babysitter, protector, and friend.
There are lots of things that I wish I could express. Reading what my Mom has written over the course of this month has caused a real swirl of emotions. She asked me to write something too, and I kinda shrugged it off, until I read what she wrote and I relived those days. And I have to say as a brother; I truly would have never had it any other way. Sure I've never not had an autistic brother. But that really only means that I've never missed out on being loved by someone so fiercely that even with the cognitive restrictions and walls autism places on emotional connection, they were able to find me within themselves and make me a part of them. It's hard to describe, but you almost feel like you've never known love until that person decides to cuddle with you because you to them are safe. And in turn, it makes you feel safe.
I'm only two years older than Matt. Much of what I know as a brother comes from the perspective of a child who also was growing up. But I can do my best to speak to those with autistic siblings.
1. DON'T MISS OUT. Younger sibling , older sibling, still children, or adults, don't miss out. You have one of the greatest and most gratifying opportunities for love and development of human compassion that mortality can give you. Don't let it go. Don't wall off your awkward, violent, sometimes gross, and often embarrassing sibling to try and spare yourself. You will feel a lot of things, and that is OK. It is OK to feel embarrassed; it is OK to feel like it's hard. But the reward in love trumps every downside, even if it goes un-reciprocated. You may not understand it yet, but you will if you try. You will learn that the love you have for this other human IS the reward. Having them being able to say it back is that extra piece of eternity that you get to have now.
2. Protect them. I have always and will ever be my brother's keeper. Your sibling may not understand what is happening all the time. Other mean kids or adults will, at some point, take advantage of this, and you will feel the pain in your heart as you see others mistreat them. Stand up, do not accept it, even if it puts you at risk. In most cases, the other people will back off. Luckily and unluckily, my brother could protect himself physically; he didn't need me for that. But he needed me for support and to show he had a friend who was NEVER going to turn on him that his family was there for him always.
3. Play. Play a lot! Do what they want to do! Play the games they want to play the way they want to play it. Be yourself and be safe, but connect. They struggle to connect, but when they do, boy do they! My favorite times growing up weren't with the neighborhood kids, they weren't at school, they were in the corner of our shared bedroom by the Lego table where we would play for hours and hours our own little Lego Sci-fi. So go make movies, have dinosaurs attack your GI Joe's, just be a better sibling than me, and lose the game from time to time. But know, however, it's always better when you play on the same side.
As they get older, listen to their interests with interest. My brother loves video games more than a Mt. Dew fevered 14 year old at a Halo Lan party in 2005. I don't play hardly at all anymore. But I love listening to my brother tell me all about his Minecraft server. And when I'm home, and I have time, I make sure we play something because that is how we connect.
4. Be proud and be proud of them. As an example, my brother just got made a manager at his work, he lives in his own house, and he has been married to his beautiful wife for some years now. I fly airplanes for a living. I cross the country at 38,000 feet, and I think that is pretty cool. But I could be an Astronaut, and that wouldn't be enough to compete. Because there is spacewalking Astronaut cool and then there's my brother cool. He went from non-verbal, violent, bullied, and low functioning to the social, intelligent, witty, strong, loving man he is today. That's not even the cool part; the cool part is whatever he can and will CHOOSE to do and be in the future! This because he is invariably and irrevocably himself. He found himself behind the walls of his cognitive and emotional barriers and grew in authenticity unashamed.
"He ain't heavy; he's my brother" (check out the lyrics)
Now not every case is like his. And yet, every case is.
I'll try to elaborate. Every single little victory, every single little defeat, every up, every down, every battle, every peace made me grow, made him grow, made my family grow, and, most importantly, made the love grow. The reward is the love. And that is how all the autistic brothers in the world are the same, in spite of differences, severity, or situation, Love is required. The love I have for my brother, and in turn all my siblings, taught me, through the schoolhouse of autism, is the only gift, the only lesson, the only choice that if I go to the grave with nothing else, I'd have lived a good life. Because he is my brother forever, and I'm thrilled.
5. so, love them with everything you've got!