What I Learned from my Autistic Brother
When I was young, I knew my brother was different. It didn’t seem important to me until some of my friends asked, “What’s wrong with him?” At first I didn’t understand what they meant because I didn’t think there was something “wrong” with him. I asked my parents, and they told me that my brother had autism and cerebral palsy.
When I went to kindergarten, my brother had already been at the same school for several years in the special education program. When he saw me in the halls, he always wanted to hug me, and I was incredibly embarrassed. I didn’t want to feel this way because I loved my brother, but I thought others would laugh at me for displaying any connection. If I saw him, I would try to hide behind friends, or walk down a different hallway. I felt ashamed of my behavior, but I couldn’t help it. Sometimes I wished I had a normal brother, but I never told anyone. I felt regret when I found myself thinking this way. Eventually, we parted ways when I went to middle school.
We weren’t enrolled in the same facility again until my junior year at high school. Since the school didn’t want to pay for a special education bus to bring Gabriel to school, I was responsible to get him on and off the bus and bring him to his classroom in the morning. My past selfish thoughts resurfaced when I had to chaperone him onto the bus. My first thoughts were “I don’t want to do this; I’m not responsible for him.” But reluctantly, I said yes because I don’t like arguing with my parents. However, after the first couple of bus rides, I realized I enjoyed taking Gabriel off the bus and bringing him to his class. It was a game for both of us. I spent the first six weeks teaching him how to simply get to his classroom; telling him which direction we were heading and when we should make a left or right turn. Later, I asked him directional questions and he would answer them. Sometimes he would get them wrong, but I would gently correct him and tell him the proper direction. By the third month he had two routes memorized. I would still get him off the bus to make sure he was taking one of the two correct routes. Later in the year, I didn’t have to watch him anymore, because I knew that he knew his way.
Eventually I started finding my own way. I saw myself emulating the same patterns of persistence that my brother portrayed in the hallway. With my school work, I’d ask myself more questions and work harder in order to achieve the results I wanted. These experiences made me become more compassionate and encompassing of people who are different than I am. I can see myself taking on more challenges in college. Now I am less fearful about trying something new. I thank my brother Gabriel for teaching me these lessons.