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The Truth About Having a Sibling With Disabilities

Disabilities comes in many different forms. There’re different kinds of physical disabilities, such as paralyzation or a broken limb, and there’re different kinds of mental disabilities, such as autism, down syndrome, and many more. Mental disabilities are something I’m very familiar with because my entire family works with them.  My mom works with two clients with disabilities, and my dad and stepmom have a man with autism living with them. On top of that, my brother Jordan has down syndrome.

Growing up with a brother with down syndrome was cool. It was like having a brother, friend, and protector all in one. I don’t know how many times I’ve been sad and he’s the first person to come and give me a hug, hold my hand, and wipe my tears away. He then refuses to leave my side until he’s sure I’m okay, but by then he’s usually crying too. He’s also one of the most caring people I’ve ever met when it comes to babies and animals. He loves to cuddle with animals, pet them, and feed them. With babies, he treats them as fragile as they are. He’s gentle when he holds them, and he’s the first to try to calm them down when they’re crying. You would never meet another person as compassionate and empathetic as Jordan.

My brother is also down for anything, which makes him such a great best friend. One time I was supposed to go shopping with my friends, but they cancelled last minute. I was frustrated because I had taken the day off work to go and I didn’t want to go by myself. I went home and asked Jordan if he wanted to come with me, and he was ecstatic to be able to come with me. This was a fun day.  He sang along to the radio with me (before he fell asleep for the rest of the ride) and made a very fun copilot for both 45-minute drives. He was extremely patient with my clothes shopping and never complained about how long I was taking. To thank him for coming with me, I took him to Chili’s for lunch. His happiness radiated enough to make anyone around him smile.

Having a brother with down syndrome showed me a lot. It showed me how hard it is to try to communicate something when nobody can understand you, without even having to experience it myself. Jordan also has something called speech apraxia, which makes it hard for him to clearly say words. As a result, he usually doesn’t communicate with full sentences, and only uses the important words from what he needs to say. It’s kind of like a Google search; you don’t type a full sentence but rather just a few keywords so that Google has less possibilities to sift through for you. There have been countless times when I or someone else is trying to understand what Jordan is trying to say, but no matter how many words we guess, it’s not right. It’s frustrating on both sides, and I feel awful every time I’m trying to figure out what he’s saying, but I just can’t. I can’t imagine how it must feel for him.

This is also a reason why the type of people who work with him are so important. Some people aren’t able to connect with him as well as other people, and this makes a huge difference in how Jordan grows. It’s the difference between someone who is doing their job to get paid, and someone who genuinely loves spending time with Jordan and helping him in his life. It’s the difference between someone who gets frustrated with him, and someone who’s willing to be patient and understanding towards helping him. Jordan can notice the difference between those people, and if he’s with someone who doesn’t share that connection, he’ll be frustrated and annoyed. However, when he’s with someone who clearly cares about him, Jordan will look forward to seeing them and it helps him to grow as a person. Jordan used to have a hard time controlling his anger and he didn’t get out of the house much. Now, because of the people he’s worked with over the years (the ones who actually helped him), he can control his anger much better now, and he now has an apartment and a job.

Growing up with a brother with down syndrome also showed me the different ways people treat others with disabilities. I’ve noticed that there are more nice people around than mean people. I can only think of one time when I saw someone being mean towards him. My family went camping one year. I was probably about ten, making Jordan thirteen, and my younger brother, Ryan, seven. We were at the playground and Jordan wanted to ride around on the big tractor, the one that’s meant for three-year olds. Some kids on a golf cart rode by and started pointing and laughing at him. Jordan noticed and started crying. It broke my heart, and still breaks it today. Fortunately, most people are extremely nice to him. People are always so happy to see him and hug him. People are extremely inclusive to him as well. For example, my two older step brothers were huge into basketball in high school. Jordan adored them, so he started to like basketball as well. The boys’ basketball team at my high school ended up making Jordan their manager just so that he could participate in parts of their practices and go to all of their games with them. For one of their games, they actually let Jordan play until he made a shot. Even the other team played along, letting Jordan have the ball back until he scored. Once he did, the crowd went nuts and they even put it in the news, interviewing my parents, my step brothers, and some members of the team. It was the time I was proudest of my brother.

I feel like the luckiest sister to have a brother like Jordan. It’s a great feeling to hear “Love you, Cole”, or come home to him with a craft he made in school for me. One time he found a blanket in our living room that was never used, and he brought it for me because he thought I would like it. People with disabilities are great people.  They make everyone’s lives around them so much brighter. When my mom was pregnant with Jordan, after they discovered he had a high chance of being born with down syndrome, they suggested that she get an abortion. Disagreeing with the doctors was the best decision my mother ever made. I wish those doctors could meet Jordan now and regret saying that. People with disabilities are just as important and special as anyone else. I’m extremely lucky to have Jordan in my life, and I think anyone who has the chance to meet him is just as lucky.

Nicole Ashe

U Maine '22

Nicole is a Vermonter who came to UMaine to experience a different area of New England. She studies business, with the hopes of becoming a manager one day with a side passion in writing, and hopes to one day become an author as well. She enjoys activities such as hiking mountains and skydiving.
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