When someone asks me what it’s like to have a sibling with autism, I usually shrug my shoulders. Although that's usually a sign of complacency, I am anything but.
I do this because I do not have a short answer, which is what I know most people are looking for.
Autism is a neuro-developmental disorder. People with autism have difficulty with social interaction and communication. No one truly knows what causes autism, but one in 68 children are on the autism spectrum.
Every person with autism is different, but many siblings experience the same things. You grow up with someone who is difficult to play with, receive glares from people in public places and remain frustrated because you don't know how to help your brother or sister.
Something I have always found strange is people have a tendency to assume I’m a good person because I have an autistic sibling. Sorry to disappoint, but I’m not a martyr.
My brother caused me to become a tougher and more compassionate individual than I would have otherwise, but I am still passive-aggressive, impatient and slightly selfish.
I'm not the one who deserves your kindness; he does.
Growing up, he constantly put me in uncomfortable situations, caused me to put his needs above my own and loved me more than anyone else.
I’m going to go out on a limb here, but I’m assuming I’m not alone.
If your sibling is anything like my brother or the other autistic people I have met, you may not be perfect, but you’re a better person because of him or her.
When you have an autistic sibling, you are forced to learn to roll with the punches. This ability is invaluable.
So, since so many people are on the autism spectrum, let’s celebrate some of the things you learned growing up with you autistic sibling.
1. How to explain a complex disorder
People who are now adults grew up when autism wasn’t well-understood. There have been multiple occasions when adults have asked me if autism and intellectual disability are the same.
This rarely happens now, and it is usually followed by at least one person in the room calling that person an idiot.
When we were growing up, though, we had to explain autism to someone who had maybe heard of it once. This happened almost every time we left the house.
Now, people usually know what autism is, and their questions have become a little more informed.
For the record, explaining autism is even more difficult to do when someone like Donald Trump — who has no experience with autism — confuses people further by perpetuating that autism is caused by vaccines.
There have been numerous studies that show no correlation between vaccines and autism.
2. How to put someone before yourself
Even selfish people have a soft spot when it comes to their autistic siblings. For years, I ate Oreos without the cream center because my brother liked that part best. (He left me the cookie.)
When I was in elementary school, he liked my room, so he got it.
This includes more serious issues as well. For instance, a lot of parents worry about what will happen to their children after they die. My parents don’t like to talk about this, but it doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about it.
For instance, when a relationship begins to get serious, I make sure my boyfriend knows my brother and I are a packaged deal.
I have a separate bank account for him. I am already brainstorming ways we can both have a fulfilling life when he moves in with me.
3. How to get rid of assh*les
When I was 7, I threw a kid off a jungle gym for making fun of my brother for not being able to climb said jungle gym.
Whether you are a friend or a boyfriend, if my brother doesn’t like you, your days are numbered.
There’s a difference between lack of experience and lack of compassion.
Lack of experience can change. Lack of compassion is a fundamental difference between us, and you are no longer someone I want in my life.
No one has ever been flat-out rude to my brother, but it’s pretty obvious when someone is being nice because he or she has to be.
People who are genuinely kind want to spend time with him when I’m not around, or at the very least, invite him places with us.
It’s the ones who act like good people for simply "being nice" who get the boot.
4. How to understand a different perspective
When my brother was little, he designated a Disney character to represent each person in our family.
Able to recite numerous animated movies, he quoted lines that pertained to our character, and fit whatever real-life situation we were in.
My brother and I were close, so I had three characters: Lady from "Lady and the Tramp," Cinderella and Grumpy from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves."
One Sunday morning, when I was 9 and he was 6, he hummed a song from "Cinderella" while I was sleeping.
It was the one in the beginning of the movie when Cinderella jumps in the shower to wake up, and the birds pour water on her head.
Moments later, I awoke to a plastic cup full of tap water hitting my face. My anger went away once I realized he was only reenacting that scene. He didn’t know how else to wake me up.
I had to admit the situation was pretty funny.
This has been helpful not only in my life, but in my career. In journalism, you inevitably have to (and should) interview people you don’t agree with.
Even if my opinion doesn’t change, I'm at least able to understand why the other person thinks the way he or she does.
5. How to stop caring what people think
Inevitably, people stare when we go out in public. Sometimes they smile; sometimes they roll their eyes. The one thing they all have in common is they have some sort of opinion.
You learn to take the positive and leave the negative.
My brother does this new thing where he lifts up his shirt when he meets new people and yells, “Put your shirt down!”He also likes to yell obscenities in the uber religious classes my mom takes him to.
He’s hilarious, and he knows it.
Spending a lot of time with someone who doesn’t let the opinions of others affect him or her causes you to think the same way.