Growing up with a brother who is on the autism spectrum meant a lot of compromises. My brother is high-functioning, but there were still a lot of things we had to do to adapt. Though we felt like it at times, we weren’t alone: According to the Autism Society, the disorder occurs in one in every 59 births in the United States. Autism can impact a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others, as well as their fine motor skills, coordination, and even their basic senses in some cases.
As a child, I had to make concessions for my brother’s condition, and there were more than a few situations that led me to say “that’s not fair!” or “you would never let me get away with that.” But, as we all grew and evolved, I realized I had to help the family work as a cohesive unit—and this continues to be the main priority for everyone in my family. Learn about the 18 autism myths that doctors wish you would stop believing.
There will be tantrums
This was especially true when my brother was young: The tantrums usually came out of a misunderstanding or a breakdown in communication—a common issue for people on the autism spectrum. They cannot always communicate what they are feeling, and the frustration can lead to tantrums. But as we got better at communicating as a family, the tantrums lessened until, eventually, they stopped completely.
Respect the routine
Something my family learned is that routine equals comfort, and maintaining routines around the house helped my brother get through his day. When we had to shift the routine, we just needed to do so with plenty of warning, careful planning, and clear communication. Read about the 14 things experts want everyone to know about autism.
Read the signs
Even as my communication with my brother improved, I could still hit a point when he wouldn’t be able to comprehend exactly what I was saying. If he failed to respond or came back with something completely off-topic, it was my cue to stop pushing or risk that he might get angry or completely shut down.
Keep social life simple
Like a lot of people on the autism spectrum, my brother is very smart. But he understands life in a completely different—yet fascinating—way. Despite his intelligence, like many people on the spectrum he has a hard time reading social cues and can find social situations challenging. In this case, my family has learned to slow down his interactions with others, keep things simple, and allow him breaks when he’s feeling overwhelmed.
They will attain goals
I grew up trying to hit goals. Career goals. Life goals. Relationship goals. Money goals. And I was acutely aware of when society felt I should reach those benchmarks. My brother may not hit those goals when he “should,” but he is attaining them—when he’s ready.
Make time for downtime
We all need time to recharge and decompress, but my brother thrives on spending a ton of time alone, something that can be true of people on the spectrum. While at times I felt like it might be a good idea for him to be more social, I realized that even family dinner demanded a lot from him, and he would need downtime afterward.
There will be so much love
I’m constantly thankful for all the love I feel and receive from my brother—even if he doesn’t show it in a traditional way. I’m able to see from his behavior and small gestures how much he appreciates me. I admire him, too, for all of the amazing things he can see that I can’t.