NOTE: In this article, I will be using PERSON FIRST language. Having grown up around not only my brothers, but also in a community where many people have an autism diagnosis, this is the language I have most often been told that the people with autism around me prefer. Please keep in mind that the general/most preferred language when addressing people with autism/autistic people varies from country to country, and even from city to city, so please don’t take offense if I use language that is not what you prefer. Technically, there is no collective right or wrong option between person-first language and identity-first language, it all depends on the personal preference of each individualwho has an autism diagnosis.
Not only am I the oldest of three children and the only female among my siblings, I am also the only child out of three that doesn’t have a diagnosis of autism. Having even one family member who has autism can be challenging, however, I have also found it to be quite rewarding. I love my brothers with all of my heart, and I wouldn’t change them for the world. My oldest-younger brother has mild autism (which used to be defined as Asperger’s, however, Asperger’s is no longer considered a diagnosis in the DSM-5). My youngest-younger brother has moderate autism. I thought I’d take the opportunity to write about my experiences growing up with siblings who have autism. I’ve seen a lot of people online lately focussing on the negative aspects of autism, I thought I’d write an article about some of the ways my brothers have enriched my life.
I can read anywhere, no matter the amount of noise.
One benefit of growing up with two brothers who have autism is that I can concentrate on reading anywhere, no matter what the noise level. For example, I could read a novel in the middle of a bustling train station or a busy airport with no issues. Children with autism are known to experience meltdowns (loss of behaviouralcontrol due to being overwhelmed, which can manifest as yelling, screaming, and crying) quite often, and my brothers weren’t (aren’t) exempt from that. As a result, I’m used to high amounts of noise and can concentrate through it. If you would like to learn more about meltdowns and autism, and why a meltdown is different to a temper tantrum, you can visit this page by the UK National Autistic Society: https://www.autism.org.uk/about/behaviour/meltdowns.aspx
Also, I can sleep through quite a bit of commotion. When I’m in a deep sleep I can sleep through almost everything; storms, mild earthquakes, you name it. Which is lucky, because between painsomnia and chronic fatigue, I need all the sleep I can get.
Hyper-awareness of people I meet.
I think it was last year that I met a friend of a friend for the first time. We shook hands in greeting, and in that span of a few seconds, I began to wonder… I’m not sure what it was, whether he wasn’t maintaining eye contact or if he held himself a certain way, but right away I was thinking “I wonder if he has autism”. After that brief moment, I didn’t think about it again until a few weeks later when my friend brought up that this guy did, in fact, have (very mild) autism. This occurs relatively often for me, and it’s not even a conscious thing. This may seem very weird to anyone who has not spent a lot of time around people with autism; it may even around like I’m being unfair in making these snap judgements. However, if you have a parent. child, sibling, or close relative that you spend a lot of time with that has autism, you may understand. This hyper-awareness, if you will, is helpful because it means I can adjust my behaviour if need be in order to make the person I am communicating with more comfortable. For example, some people who have autism find maintaining eye contact with others very uncomfortable, so if I suspect that is the case with the person I am talking to, I will not attempt to gain eye contact, nor would I feel upset about it.
I find females a lot harder to read than males, though. Even though I’m female myself, most of my knowledge about autism comes from growing up with my brothers. While I have interacted with many people of all different ability levels in my life, I have spent the most time with my brothers. Autism manifests differently in women than it does in men, and I’ve spent most of my time studying the cues of my brothers and have become used to spotting it in males. As a result, I could meet a woman with mild autism, have a long conversation with her, and never know about her diagnosis until (if) she told me. This hyper-awareness is a weird benefit of growing up around people who have autism
I have gained patience and understanding.
Having my family and I receive judgemental looks and reactions has taught me how horrible it can be to experience this kind of behaviour. I have learned not to judge people by their appearances or by their behaviour, at least until I understand the motivations behind saidbehaviour. A child who appears to be having a temper tantrum may actually be experiencing a meltdown due tobeing overwhelmed. A child who is making constant noises/hand gestures or hiding under tables may be stimming (self-soothing, repetitive behaviour) or hiding due to feeling anxious. If you would like to learn more about stimming and autism, you can visit this page by the Child Mind Institute: https://childmind.org/article/autism-and-stimming/
When you are communicating with a child who has autism, you need to have a lot of patience. This is because autism can cause processing disorders, which can result in the child taking longer than expected to answer a question. It can also cause speech issues, such as difficulty pronouncing certain sounds. There are also other things that can impact interaction with a child who has autism, such as them being prone to losing their train of thought or becoming distracted/ going off on tangents. Not only did my brothers help me to widen my communication skills, but they also taught me how to be patient when dealing with their, sometimes disruptive,behaviour.
There were times in my childhood, however, when my brothers pushed my patience levels past breaking point. Since I struggled with chronic pain from a young age, the pain and fatigue sometimes decreased the amount of patience I had towards my brothers. How my parents coped with a cranky, in-pain preteen and two boys with autism I will never know.
My brothers are a blessing
Yes, there have been struggles growing up, but my brothers have taught me so much. They’ve inspired me more then they will ever know. It hurts my heart to know that people like my brothers get treated badly by others as a result of something beyond their control. Autism is becoming more and more widely understood, and I hope that someday Autism isn’t seen as a negative thing, but rather as a merely different thing.
Autism runs in my family (even if I don’t have it), so I’ve come to terms with the fact that if I have biological children, at least one will likely have autism. I’m not worried, however, because if my brothers have taught me anything, it’s that the blessings in life can come in the most obscure fashions.
About The Author
Amy Clements is a 20-year-old who has lived with chronic pain, the result of Fibromyalgia, since childhood. In her teens she was diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome in her wrist, which was the result of a netball injury. Amy lives in New Zealand and studies Business part-time at University. She enjoys reading novels and writing. She especially enjoys writing about her experience with chronic illness.