What My Autistic Brother Has Taught Me

What My Autistic Brother Has Taught Me

It's More Than You Might Think

Like many younger siblings, I spent my early years in school following in the shadow of my older brother. Trying to be the best, prove myself and succeed. Except one thing was different than all my classmates around me. Every teacher looked at me in one of two ways: either apologetically or with annoyance and disgust.

My brother, Christopher, is two years older than me, and growing up we did almost everything together (people even thought we were twins sometimes). We grew up watching PBS, which eventually turned into "Harry Potter." We ran through the sprinkler and jumped in leaves together in the backyard. But there was always that one thing that made teachers look at me differently.

Around the age of three, Chris was diagnosed with PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified.) That’s a lot of scientific mumbo jumbo, but in plain terms, my brother is autistic.

Growing up, I tried to create this image of a perfect child. I put pressure on myself to succeed and to be perfect. I wanted to succeed, not only for myself, but for my brother. I wanted to do things he would never be able to. I felt pressure to get good at and succeed in everything I did because my brother would never have those chances or opportunities. I wanted to be the perfect child for my parents that my brother couldn’t. In reality, this pressure wasn’t coming from anyone but myself; my parents couldn't have cared less.

I never knew anything was ‘wrong’ with my brother until I started school. People treated him differently and then started treating me differently. 20 years ago, we didn’t know nearly as much about autism as we do today, which affected the way both of us grew up. His teachers, my parents, everyone was flying blindly, not knowing what to expect or what the right versus wrong thing to do was. My friends didn’t understand and it was nearly impossible to explain.

“What could you possibly learn from him?”

Believe it or not, I’ve heard this question too many times to count. My answer is simple: a lot. He’s taught me so much, it’s impossible to put it into words or explain it to anyone, but here are just a few things I think we can all learn from him:


My brother does the best he can, but he has difficulties interacting with people, sharing his and reading other people's emotions.

He doesn’t say “I missed you” or give very many hugs. Growing up, I thought this meant he didn’t love me, but it was far from that. I learned he just didn’t know how to show it to me. When I moved away to college, I didn’t think my brother would miss me at all. As I got busier throughout high school, we hung out less. After being at school for less than a month, I remember my mom calling and actually saying Chris wanted to talk to me. I was stunned - not only does he have a hard time communicating in person, but talking on the phone is something he has struggled with for years. The conversation wasn’t very long, and we didn’t talk about much, but it was one of the best phone calls I have ever had. That moment showed me that there isn’t one ‘right’ way to show your love and affection to someone. Just because you don’t say it, doesn’t mean the love isn’t there.


One of the biggest things there is he can be annoying (a lot) and really embarrass me in public (way too often), but if you sit and be patient, and really try to understand him, there is a lot to learn. My brother is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. He remembers everything he has ever read, watched or heard (and trust me I mean everything …). My brother can list off everything Abraham Lincoln did the day he was assassinated and the details of every case from every episode of "Bones." And even when I want to roll my eyes when he talks about "Dr. Who" (again), I still try to listen. There is a lot of wisdom in what he says. For example, my brother is the least judgmental person I have ever met. He doesn’t care if someone is Black, white, purple or blue (he will still talk your ear off). But it’s something that just puts me in awe. In a world filled with so much hate and judgement, he shows me there is still good in this world.

Things Don’t Go Your Way (a lot)

This is something I think almost everyone learns throughout life, but it’s something I think I learned much earlier in life. My parents always tried to show both my brother and me unconditional love, but it was hard to treat us the same. I can’t tell you how many nights I would go to bed screaming and crying that my parents loved my brother more than me, but that was so far from the truth. The fact of the matter is that there were, and still are, things my brother can’t do on his own. I was furious when we had to leave Magic Kingdom early because he was overwhelmed and stressed. I felt that everything was about him and in that moment it was, but only because it had to be. It didn’t mean my parents loved me any less, but in that moment what I wanted just didn’t happen. And it’s okay to not get your way.

Take Life One Day at a Time

The future is unknown for my brother. We have no idea if Chris will ever be able to live on his own, have a relationship or anything else. It is a very real possibility that someday in the future, my brother will become my responsibility. That reality used to scare me to death, but now it’s something I will willingly accept and something I will enjoy every moment of. I won’t give my brother up for anything, not a boy, a friend - nobody. It was a deal-breaker for me growing up, and will continue to be. If you can’t love my brother unconditionally, then you don’t have the right to love me.

I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t have traded my brother’s disability for an easier life, not only for myself but for him as well. He had to deal with so many difficult things that I can’t even imagine. It was hard, I had to grow up faster than those around me, and those around me didn’t understand what I was going through.

But because of my brother, I am a better individual. He changed who I am as a person, and how I grew up - that part I wouldn’t change for the world. Without him, how would I ever know every detail about "Titanic" or remember what I said two months ago (yes, he really does remember that)?He’s shown me how to be strong in times of adversity, and taught me what true unconditional love is. I believe that because of him I am a stronger person than I could have ever imagined. I am lucky to have the weird, smart and amazing brother that I do. I don’t see him as someone with special needs, but I do see him as someone who is truly special.

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It's Time To Thank Your First Roommate

Not the horror story kind of roommate, but the one that was truly awesome.

Nostalgic feelings have recently caused me to reflect back on my freshman year of college. No other year of my life has been filled with more ups and downs, and highs and lows, than freshman year. Throughout all of the madness, one factor remained constant: my roommate. It is time to thank her for everything. These are only a few of the many reasons to do so, and this goes for roommates everywhere.

You have been through all the college "firsts" together.

If you think about it, your roommate was there through all of your first college experiences. The first day of orientation, wishing you luck on the first days of classes, the first night out, etc. That is something that can never be changed. You will always look back and think, "I remember my first day of college with ____."

You were even each other's first real college friend.

You were even each other's first real college friend.

Months before move-in day, you were already planning out what freshman year would be like. Whether you previously knew each other, met on Facebook, or arranged to meet in person before making any decisions, you made your first real college friend during that process.

SEE ALSO: 18 Signs You're A Little Too Comfortable With Your Best Friends

The transition from high school to college is not easy, but somehow you made it out on the other side.

It is no secret that transitioning from high school to college is difficult. No matter how excited you were to get away from home, reality hit at some point. Although some people are better at adjusting than others, at the times when you were not, your roommate was there to listen. You helped each other out, and made it through together.

Late night talks were never more real.

Remember the first week when we stayed up talking until 2:00 a.m. every night? Late night talks will never be more real than they were freshman year. There was so much to plan for, figure out, and hope for. Your roommate talked, listened, laughed, and cried right there with you until one of you stopped responding because sleep took over.

You saw each other at your absolute lowest.

It was difficult being away from home. It hurt watching relationships end and losing touch with your hometown friends. It was stressful trying to get in the swing of college level classes. Despite all of the above, your roommate saw, listened, and strengthened you.

...but you also saw each other during your highest highs.

After seeing each other during the lows, seeing each other during the highs was such a great feeling. Getting involved on campus, making new friends, and succeeding in classes are only a few of the many ways you have watched each other grow.

There was so much time to bond before the stresses of college would later take over.

Freshman year was not "easy," but looking back on it, it was more manageable than you thought at the time. College only gets busier the more the years go on, which means less free time. Freshman year you went to lunch, dinner, the gym, class, events, and everything else possible together. You had the chance to be each other's go-to before it got tough.

No matter what, you always bounced back to being inseparable.

Phases of not talking or seeing each other because of business and stress would come and go. Even though you physically grew apart, you did not grow apart as friends. When one of you was in a funk, as soon as it was over, you bounced right back. You and your freshman roommate were inseparable.

The "remember that one time, freshman year..." stories never end.

Looking back on freshman year together is one of my favorite times. There are so many stories you have made, which at the time seemed so small, that bring the biggest laughs today. You will always have those stories to share together.

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The unspoken rule that no matter how far apart you grow, you are always there for each other.

It is sad to look back and realize everything that has changed since your freshman year days. You started college with a clean slate, and all you really had was each other. Even though you went separate ways, there is an unspoken rule that you are still always there for each other.

Your old dorm room is now filled with two freshmen trying to make it through their first year. They will never know all the memories that you made in that room, and how it used to be your home. You can only hope that they will have the relationship you had together to reflect on in the years to come.

Cover Image Credit: Katie Ward

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To The Aunts Who Made Us The Women We Are Today

"My Aunt has ears that really listen, arms that hug and hold, a love that's never ending, and a heart made of gold." - Unknown


In my life I have my aunts that are truly my parent's sisters or sisters-in-law, then I have my cousins that I refer to as my aunts.

I may be weird for calling my cousins my aunts but they truly deserve that title. The amount of love and support my aunts have given me throughout my entire life is what made me be the women I am today. I could not and would not be who I am without their guidance and love.

They listen to me with open ears and no judgment.

They worry and care for me almost as much as my mother does. I am eternally grateful for God for giving me the wonderful aunts that I have because they bring such good energy to my mother and me.

My aunt that only lives a couple of houses away from me has always been there to help me with anything I ever needed and my mom has been there for my cousins the same way. I cannot thank her enough for giving me my best friend since birth and the girl I call my sister. I can call her later at night when I need something for a school project and we do not have what I need at home.

Aunts are so great because they are so reliable.

My school and sports teams do a lot of fundraisers, so having multiple aunts I can always count on them to order products from me. I also know if I'm ever stuck and need a ride, need somewhere to go, or someone to confide in they are right by my side. Having one God-Mother or role model in your life would be pretty great, but having multiple is more than fantastic.

My aunts are so important to me, I couldn't live with them.

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