My Little Brother With Down Syndrome Teaches Me So Much

My Little Brother With Down Syndrome Teaches Me So Much

Having a sibling with Down Syndrome can be hard, but it is also a unique and eye-opening experience.

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.

Cover Image Credit: Crabb, Megan

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To My Little Sister As She Graduates High School

"No one ever made a difference by being like everyone else." -P.T. Barnum


Dear Little Sis,

The first thing that I want you to know is that I am so incredibly proud of you. I know graduating from high school seems like something everyone does, but each individual journey to the end of those four long years is different. You made it through yours, and that is such an amazing accomplishment.

It definitely flies. I remember my senior year of high school when you were a freshman and believe it or not, it was a lot of fun to see you through those halls. Now you get to relax for the summer and then go on to bigger and better things in college. It may seem scary, but all adventures are, right? College is a lot to handle, and it may sound crazy, but you are ready. I promise. And if not, here's a little advice from your big sister:

Don't be a hermit crab.

It may be tempting to sit in your single dorm all day and watch Pretty Little Liars, but go and find a club that is fun and do something that you're passionate about. That's how I came to find that Eastern was my home, and not just some campus that I took classes at. Even if it is just getting a study group together or grabbing a bite to eat with a few classmates, you could find some friends that will last you a lifetime.

Take risks.

Think that one class with that crazy professor will be a challenge? Do it! I have found that you learn the most (not just about the topic being covered), about yourself as a student and how to handle challenges in the harder classes. Some people will call you literally insane, but sometimes there is a little method to the madness.

Know your limits.

In high school, you were always one to stay up into the early hours of the morning and study your butt off until you knew what the test was on like the back of your hand. I also remember that being too much for you. If you need to sleep, get some rest. There comes a time that you reach your study limit and you won't retain any more information. Knowing your limits comes outside of studying as well. If you need to say no to going out with some friends because you need time for yourself, that's okay!

Ask for help if you need it.

Your professors are there for you and want you to do well, and it is in your best interest to go to their office hours if you need help. This goes for your RA and your guidance counselor as well. Even if it is just the smallest thing of "do I need my own laundry detergent," people are there to help you (by the way... yes, yes you need that).

Failure is OK.

No matter what it is, sometimes things get to hard and you don't do the best in a class, or you don't get that job you wanted. It is totally okay! Not to quote Hannah Montana here, but really nobody is perfect. Failing at something just gives you an opportunity to get back up and try again, come back stronger, and work harder to reach whatever goal you have set for yourself.

Appreciate the little things.

Go outside and take walks every once and a while. I have found that nature is incredibly soothing, and sometimes it is the little things that just calm you down when you're going through a stressful time. Sometimes, I even listen to certain songs just to smile at a memory. Take little moments to spend with the friends you make, often times, the 3 a.m. talks or a run to 7/11 for Slurpees are the most memorable.

Take a class every once and a while that will be fun for you, even if it is as simple as "Introduction to Photography" or "Harry Potter Literature." Sometimes the fun classes are your break from all the others, and it's something small to look forward to.


I know it sounds cliché and a little silly, but this is the best thing you can do for yourself. It's important to choose the major you want for yourself, regardless of what everyone is telling you. Find what you love and pursue everything that comes along with it. In addition, your personality is beautiful and do not let anyone tell you otherwise. People should accept you for you, and if they don't, they were not worth it in the first place.

I hope this small amount of advice will help you while you're off in college (at least a little bit). It's going to be really, REALLY, weird knowing that you're not going to be living at home where I can hear your laugh through the wall at night, or know I can just come home and play a video game with you to relax for a bit.

I just want you to know that I am only a phone call away and I am here for you always, no matter the distance. I love you so much, and I know you are going to do so many great things. You are my person. I couldn't have said it better than Cristina Yang from Grey's Anatomy, "Have some fire. Be unstoppable. Be a force of nature. Be better than anyone here, and don't give a damn what anyone thinks."

With more love than you know,

Big Sis

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