I am the youngest of three; an older sister who is 22 and an older brother who is 24. Growing up with older siblings is always a great topic of conversations. The verbal and physical beatings I took from my quick-witted older sister were legendary. But, having a brother who was five years older than me was a different experience than many other people might have had.
At the age of three, my brother was diagnosed with autism. Right from the beginning, the doctors advised my parents to give him up. "He won't ever be a normal child, put him in an institution." But, my parents being the amazing people they are, never gave up on Aaron. My mother was a stay-at-home mom and worked her butt off to give my brother the best life she could. Considering his early prognosis, he has a full, meaningful, and amazing life. Giving up on Aaron's chance for a happy and healthy life was not an option.
As a kid, I never saw my brother as autistic. He was just my brother. It was that simple. Looking back on it, I don't think I fully even comprehended what it meant to have autism. Aaron did everything my sister and I did. He participated in athletics, we traveled as a family, went to school, watched TV and movies, and we all loved to go out to eat together. Things seemed 'normal,' so why did people keep saying that Aaron had special needs?
What separated Aaron from everyone else was his speech. Aaron can read and write but has apraxia. This involves motor planning. His mouth doesn't form the words his brain tells it to. Instead, he has word approximations. To my family, this is normal and we understand him completely.To others, this can be disconcerting and uncomfortable. When we go out to restaurants, Aaron wants participate in family conversation. I can only imagine how frustrating it is for him when people don't understand what he is saying. Generally, he is pretty good at writing it down, but often the frustration bubbles up. Sometimes his sounds get louder, and they are truly happy sounds. This is often where others don't understand where the noises are coming from and tend to just stare. Sometimes people are remarkably ignorant. I remember one occasion when my family was enjoying brunch together, a man turned around in a booth next to us, and informed us to "get him to stop making noise or leave." Because of this instance, I was always very anxious in crowded public restaurants. I didn't have the courage to stand up to people until I got older. My love for my brother has helped me gain the courage to stand up for him when he can't.
There is a national program that allows individuals with special needs to have the opportunity to stay in school until they are 21. I had the honor of being in the same high school with my brother for two years. Not only did I see him smiling from ear to ear every day because of his love of school, But I also saw the unconditional love of his peers. Aaron made lifelong friendships in school. People saw past his disability and saw him for all of his amazing abilities.
I am honored and blessed to have such an incredible role model in my life that I can also call my brother.