A lot of us grow up with siblings in our lives, whether they're younger, older or close to our age. While we don't like to admit it when we're young, our brothers and sisters help shape who we are and how we see the world. They also tend to teach us important lessons that we may have never learned without them.
When I was 4 years old, my brother was born. I was an only child before then and I remember being so excited to finally have someone to play with. Being young, it never occurred to me that there was anything different about him. He was cute, fun to play with and I enjoyed having him around. I would bring all of my stuffed animals to the living room while he was laying on the floor and make a circle with them around him because I liked him so much.
As I grew older, I began to see what other people usually see about my little brother. He didn't walk, talk or act like other children his age. That is when it occurred to me that my brother was different. But not in a bad way.
Growing up with a sibling who has Down Syndrome is a blessing as well as a challenge. For those who do not know, Down Syndrome is a genetic defect caused by an extra or third chromosome on the 21st set of chromosomes. It usually results in lower cognitive functioning and distinct physical features such as short stature, low muscle tone, upward slanting eyes, etc. But if you know someone with Down Syndrome, you know that these skin deep aspects have nothing on their cheerful and amazing personalities.
Having a sibling who "isn't like the other kids" can be a struggle. I grew up watching people stare at my brother and give him strange looks. I had friends ask what was wrong with him and why he did the little things he does. As a kid, I was always embarrassed. I used to think, "Why am I the one with the brother everyone always has questions about?" Looking back, I know it was something I had to go through in order to embrace the special person my brother is.
Now being in college, I look back at the way I used to be embarrassed of my brother and laugh. If there is one thing that having a sibling with Down Syndrome teaches you, it is that you have to have tough skin. Learning to accept my brother for who he is was difficult, but it also taught me not to judge others so quickly. It taught me that you have to be patient and be slow to anger with certain people. But the biggest lesson it taught me was how to embrace someone for who they are, little quirks and all.
Do I sometimes still struggle with having a sibling who is different? Sure. Having to take the stairs one step at a time or listen to him singing along to Aladdin for the 10 millionth time can be a little annoying. But it makes up for it when I get to see him do things that really surprise me, like read out loud or swim better than most people I know.
Having a brother with Down Syndrome is difficult, but it is also fun and rewarding. Watching someone go about life in a different way can change the way you see your own. If I had to sum up my experience is one sentence, it would be this: There is no such thing as DIS-abled, only DIFFERENTLY-abled.