What it’s like to grow up with a Sibling that has Autism

Despite him being six foot five, he’s still my little brother and I love him very much. It was somewhat difficult growing up together due to his disability and being his big sister, I had to help out a lot. My brother has a very mild form of autism and it sometimes impairs his ability to communicate his emotions effectively and make friends. 

In his early years, his autism was much more apparent and affected him a lot more than it does today. He was non-verbal for about 3 years and struggled to express himself in almost all aspects of life. He had to participate in speech therapy early on and work on his stimming, which was the only way he would convey his thoughts and feelings. As he progressed through his early childhood into his elementary years, he began making a couple of good friends and adjusting to being at school most of the day. He continued his speech therapy through the first couple years of elementary school, while also tacking on occupational therapy while in school, and receiving an IEP (Individual Education Plan) starting in kindergarten. The IEP made things much easier for my brother because he had the ability to learn at his own pace and to get extensions put on assignments that he may have potentially had a struggle doing, such as large reading assignments or math worksheets. He was very successful thanks to this plan his special education team came up with and revised every year. Had it not been for them, I don’t think my brother would even be close to where he is today. Middle school was very similar to his later elementary school years in that he just kept succeeding. His seventh-grade year, he was enrolled in all mainstream classes, something we had never tried before and it worked! In fact, in his meeting at the end of his eighth-grade year, my mother was told that my brother could possibly ditch his IEP because he was doing so well in school and didn’t really even need it. Everyone in my household was shocked! For so many years, we had a plan in place to help my brother out with his schooling and now he doesn’t need it?!? Wow!!! But my mom decided to keep it in place just in case my brother did need it, as he was transitioning to high school the following year. Finally, after completing his freshman year of high school, my mom decided that it was time to do away with the IEP. My brother is currently a sophomore in high school who’s enrolled in two Advanced Placement college-level courses and a couple of other mainstream classes. He’s very responsible about getting his homework done and asking questions if needed (which is very impressive since he used to not even talk!) 

    Besides his schooling, my brother struggled with a lot of bullying and harassment from other kids. He was called names, pushed around, abused, among other things. Being the super big and tall kid, let alone having a disability made him a walking target for harassment. That saying “pick on someone your own size’ did not apply in any of the cases of my brother being bullied. At one point, he was called the “R” word and got into a fight at recess, nearly punching the kid and knocking him out. My mom had to be called into the principal’s office to be explained to the implications of what had happened and how the principal wanted her to reprimand my brother for admitting he wanted to punch the kid who was bullying him on the playground, not that he followed through with his thoughts and put them into action. Once told both sides of the story, my mom told the principal that she would not punish her kid for standing up for himself. Along with this, there was a teacher that did not review his IEP and refused to accommodate my brother making it difficult for him to stay on track and keep up with the rest of his class. He was punished for turning in assignments late and sometimes didn’t let him leave class if he needed/wanted to (despite his IEP stating that he could do so). My mom got really frustrated and occasionally went off at the teacher, sending notes and making phone calls to her and sometimes the administration. We all survived the school year that year, even though it wasn’t the greatest experience on earth.

    My brother’s been through a lot in his life, especially along the lines of living with a disability. As far as my perspective goes, it’s been hard growing up alongside him. With both my parents working nights and not having weekends off, it was mainly my responsibility to make sure my brother was okay. I know that it made me a more responsible and caring person, but while my parents loved both of us, I felt like the focus was on my brother and getting him the help he needed to get him to where he is now. Now that he is very successful and I’m not under my parent’s roof, it’s caused a sort of strain on my relationship with my family, Though I am grateful for the moments we’ve shared together as brother and sister while I was still at home, now that I’m away and watch my brother from the sidelines it seems like, it’s tough for me to not want to take care of him like I used to and instead, watch him succeed on his own. 

    I wrote this article because I think my perspective as a sibling of someone who lives with a disability like autism is often forgotten about and ignored because the person with the disability is the focus, then the parents, then siblings. If you know someone who is in a similar situation like mine, ask them (at their discretion) about their opinion or story. I’m sure it will open your eyes to a whole new perspective.