In 12th grade, as I was applying for colleges, I was asked to write a brief essay about a person who has had a profound impact on my life. I did not hesitate for even a moment before deciding to write about my older brother, Taylor. After all, we have remained almost inseparable for my entire life and have experienced all of life’s ups and downs together. He was my first friend, my greatest role model, and actually there’s one more thing I forgot to mention. He has Down syndrome (you can read more about what DS is here).

I’m not asking you to feel bad for him, much less me or my family. Instead, I ask you to open your mind to realize the incredible impact that individuals with special needs can have on the world around them. That being said, here is the essay I wrote for my college apps:

“Throughout a person’s life, they come in contact with multitudes upon multitudes of other people. Most of them have very little impact on the person’s life, some remain near to the person but do not impact their life in a profound way, and a handful change the person’s life forever. I have been fortunate enough to know one person in particular that has had an unquantifiable positive impact on my life. This person is my older brother, Taylor, and it is hard to imagine what my life would be like today had we been born into any other set of circumstances.

The majority of the influence Taylor has had on my life stems from the fact that he has Down syndrome. The most prominent feature of Down syndrome is mental retardation; but there are also a plethora of associated health problems. Thusly, Taylor may as well have lived in the hospital until age three. I was too young to remember most of this; but as a child I do recall many late-night trips to the emergency room for a barking cough called croup and two near-fatal bouts of pneumonia in his teenage years. He took on each of these challenges with phenomenal bravery, which is evidence of his inspirational tenacity.

Another reason that Taylor inspires me is that he defies all of the odds. When he was born, the doctors said he would never be able to talk. Sure enough, after years of speech therapy (not to mention the physical and occupational therapy required to master necessary skills for living that come easily to most) , he is talking up a storm. Not only this, but he recently graduated high school with honors and is now attending a vocational school for young adults with special needs. He also plays basketball and softball, plans to spend his spring break in Florida with his friends from basketball, and continues to have as much fun as he can, regardless of what others think.

The last and perhaps foremost reason that Taylor has impacted me so is his firm grasp on the concept of unconditional love. This is not something he has learned, but something that he has inherently known better than anyone else I have come in contact with. He just does not understand certain social nuances; but what he does understand are the simplest forms of human emotion. Nearly everyone he has met has fallen in love with him; and the reverse is true most of the time. Taylor just makes me wish that everyone else could let go of their pride and learn to love each other unconditionally. The world would be a better place.

Growing up with Taylor has taught me to be more understanding. It has also taught me never to take anything for granted. Additionally, being immersed in the special needs community throughout my life has made me into a special needs advocate. I will admit that growing up with Taylor has been challenging at times; but I would not have traded it for anything.”

Looking back, everything in this essay still holds true. Taylor is still the single most loving person I have ever met, and still continues to shatter my expectations with what he is capable of. Once a shy child with poor verbal skills, he is now following his dream of becoming a chef at a culinary school for adults with special needs and even did a cooking segment on the most major local news channel. He has become immeasurably more confident by volunteering at a local hospital and working at the farmer’s market, so much so that people don’t believe me when I tell them the doctors said he may never be verbal.

I have yet to meet a person (or a dog for that matter—the man loves dogs more than anyone I have ever met) who isn’t enchanted by his shamelessly loving demeanor and positive attitude. I am often taken aback by the insight that someone who allegedly has the mental capacity of a second grader offers about the world, in complete disbelief that such a unique individual has come to be out of sheer coincidence. Most of all, however, I am convinced that he loves me more than any one person has ever loved me. It makes me feel like the luckiest girl in the world to be adored by my big brother, and while I would never wish something like Down syndrome on someone, I am so glad that I have been fortunate enough to have such an amazing person in my life.