As humans, we learn from observation. We adapt to our environment by picking up on the various behaviors of our peers. Thus, our personality is molded by the people we choose to observe. These people could be a close relative, parent, or sibling. In my case, my biggest behavioral influence was my younger brother. When my brother was born, I remember thinking of all the things I would teach him as we grew up together. When he was two, he was diagnosed with autism. Despite his diagnosis, I was still determined to be a strong role model for my little brother, even if he didn’t learn like the rest of us. To my surprise, I’ve ended up learning more from him than he has from me. Thanks, autism

1. If you know one person with autism, you know one person with autism.

A HUGE misconception about autism is that all people with autism are the same. My mom always says, “if you know one person with autism, you know one person with autism.” My brother, for example, has come to be very high functioning. He goes to a normal school with *typical* teens (even though I have learned that no one is completely typical), he makes his own food, picks out his own clothes, and makes really, really funny jokes. Sadly, many other people with autism may not be capable of leading a semi-normal life.

2. People talk too much and don’t listen enough.

I can’t tell you how many times I have come home from a long day and forced my poor brother to listen to all of my problems. Honestly, I’m not even sure if he processes what I am saying half the time but he sure as heck knows how to make me feel better. Even by simply sitting there and holding my hand, looking me in the eye as he giggles at my stupid drama driven tears, he solves all my problems. We need to start listening to our friends when they vent instead of spewing out thoughtless, cliche, rebuttals. Seriously, it means a lot more when someone just lets you vent rather than talking your ear off about what you should do.

3. We need to learn how to laugh at the annoying things, like crying babies.

There was a time my brother would cry like a baby when he heard a crying baby. Why? Because they can be loud and annoying (but cute, of course). One day, I noticed my brother started giggling when the baby next to us starting throwing a fit. This may be meaningless to you, but to me, it means that he learned to be POSITIVE in the most unwanted situations. Next time you’re stuck in traffic, late to class, or even next to a screaming infant yourself, try laughing it off. Literally, laugh. It will turn your whole day around.

4. Patience is key.

I’ve never fought with my brother, mostly because for the first half of his 17-year-old life I could not show aggression toward him because he usually didn’t even realize what he did to upset me. Even though he could probably handle my sisterly-wrath now, I am conditioned to be patient when most people would retaliate. No sibling fight is that serious, choose to be patient and let the small stuff go.

5. We are capable of overcoming even the biggest obstacles.

My parents were told that my brother would probably never speak, maybe not even make eye-contact. Now, my brother sings along with me to our favorite songs (his favorite is Hotline Bling, shout-out Kentucky Dad), makes me dinner when I come home, and even wakes me up at 7 a.m in the most lovingly-energetic way possible just so that we can spend the day together. My brother has come a long way from spending his days in some sort of doctors office. There once was a possibility that autism was going to rob me of my little brother, by robbing him of his personality. But my brother is a fighter. He worked extremely hard to get to where he is today. Every day, I feel so blessed to have such a strong bond with my brother.

6. People can be ignorant AF.

If I see you judging my angel of a brother because he flapped his hands out of excitement at the water park, or laughed really loud at something that most people wouldn’t, there is a 100% I will call you out, or shove you down a water slide. Just because my brother has autism, does not mean that he is different. Yes, he lives with a disability and that sucks. But the way I see it, he has turned this “disability” into something awesome. There is so much more to my brother than his diagnosis, and anyone who can’t see that is ignorant AF.

7. Saying less is more.

We like to describe my brother as the strong, silent type. He may not talk much, but when he does- you better listen to what he has to say. Through observing my brother, I’ve learned that when you say less, your words mean more. So instead of spewing out a bunch of meaningless words, think about what you really need to say, then it loud and clear.

8. People with autism are not deaf, so stop yelling.

OK, this isn’t really something I’ve learned but it is my biggest pet peeve. Every freaking time we meet someone new, there is an 8/10 chance they will SCREAM throughout the whole conversation because they think for some reason my brother having autism also means he’s deaf. It doesn’t. So stop.

9. More people need to befriend people with autism.

My brother’s diagnosis introduced my family and me to a whole new community full of loving, worthy, individuals. I have met countless people with autism, each of which has their own unique personalities and qualities. My brother, as awesome as he is, doesn’t have many friends. Why? Because everyone loves the idea of befriending someone with autism, but no one actually does it. Rarely do I find people who want to get to know my brother because he is an amazing friend, rather I find people who want to be his friend because it makes them feel noble. My brother is not a charity case. Don’t ask him to the prom to get likes on twitter, because he could care less about it. Befriend someone with autism because they are a person. My brother is a genuinely good person. If you took the time to know him, you’d probably be jealous of his awesomeness.

10. Unconditional love is the key to a happy life.

My brother loves with his whole heart. You may be thinking to yourself “I give unconditional love!”. But, no, you don’t. Unconditionally love is physically feeling the positivity radiating off of someone when they embrace you. It’s the kind of love that holds no grudges and has no bad days. My brother has attained endless happiness. I learned that the secret to his glowing smile is the way he loves. He has no hatred in his heart for any human being. He is truly unbothered because he is full of love. My brother has taught me how to love when all I want to do is hate.

Autism is complicated. Autism is not easy. Autism is a disability. But, autism does not define the person it effects. Without my brother, I would not be the person I am today. He has taught me to be strong, independent, hard-working, positive, and loving. He has taught me how to be a great friend and an even better sister. So thank you, autism, for allowing my brother to prove to the world that he is so much more than a diagnosis.