If you grew up with a brother or sister you know the impact siblings have in our lives. Whether one or more, the relationship with our siblings will most likely be the longest relationship during the span of our life. Does having a brother or sister who is on the spectrum change that dynamic and if so, how? The brothers and sisters of autism acquire more than just a sibling, it’s a relationship few will ever experience. But with all experiences, it’s what you make of it that really counts.
My brother and I have always been incredibly close– the dynamic duo! That’s not to say we didn’t have our fair share of sibling rivalry or differences of opinion. What we did have were countless childhood and adult experiences, and we still do. The common denominators– respect, love, laughter and always loyalty. We can talk to each other about anything, even agree to disagree at times but always know we have each other’s backs. Yes, we have spouses, our parents, our children, family and friends, but as siblings there is a bond unmatched by others.
Over the years I have watched that bond between my two daughters and Jonathan grow and flourish in its own way. While autism has removed most of the verbal communication piece for Jonathan, it has not impacted how they communicate with each other. So many times without a word being said, I’ve witnessed Sammi or Cassie responding to Jonathan’s wants or needs. At times I’ve missed the clue, but they have insights to him that come from being a sibling. Autism has never impacted that piece, just intensified their ability to understand without words. A look, a smile, a gesture, a comfort all its own, because they are siblings. It is a beautiful thing to witness, time and time again.
As beautiful as those times have been, there have been those that were not. Times where both my girls have sacrificed and endured more than many with neurotypical siblings. Encountering stares, comments, disapproval, even ridicule, at the expense of autism, from adults as well as peers. Outings, holidays, birthdays and vacations that were less than ideal at times. Missing out or going without, when Jonathan needed them.
Despite these moments, they had maturity, understanding, patience and most of all unconditional love. Obvious at countless times throughout their childhood. Like when Sammi was Jonathan’s date for his 8th grade dance. Or when Cassie would join Jonathan’s peer play sessions. Sibs Day in support of their brother and all the Autism Awareness walks. Taking the time to include him wherever and whenever they could. Not out of obligation, but sibling love. Autism never interfered with that bond, it dared not as it was too strong. Even as all three are now adults, the bond just intensifies as does the love.
I’ve been asked how I would feel if some day there was a cure for autism. I once posed that question to my girls. I believe Cassie was 7 or 8 at the time, Sammi 12. They both looked at me, almost in disbelief. Cassie’s response was an emphatic “No, because then he wouldn’t be Jonathan”, to which Sammi added “We love him just the way he is.” Sammi also remarked that the word cure implied that autism was bad, wrong and should be dismissed or removed. Perish the thought, a world without their brother, was not a world they wanted to live in.
As the parent of a son with autism, not a world I would want to live in either.