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Most big brothers can dish out advice and guide their younger siblings. My big brother is different. I can’t remember the specific time that the transition occurred, but at some point Brandon went from being my big brother to an autistic sibling in a young man’s body. Brandon was never able to guide me with words, but his disability has affected my life tremendously and, despite the challenges, for the better.
Before grade school I remember accompanying my mom and brother to his occupational and speech therapy appointments. It never crossed my mind that this was not normal. After entering grade school I began to realize there was something different about him. Kids made comments about him, and I began to live in his shadow. It didn’t matter what I did or how I acted; it always felt like I was his sister and people who didn’t know me simply expected that I was the same. Teachers at my elementary school knew me as Brandon’s younger sister. Subconsciously I became determined to beat out their prejudice and make a name for myself. I became active in various groups and dedicated myself to school at a young age. I credit much of my current drive to this childhood need to prove I wasn’t like Brandon.
I also developed unusual maturity and independence as a result of my brother’s condition. My parents devoted most of their time to helping Brandon, such as driving him to therapy and later to his distant special education school. Although my parents always made sure I had what I needed, I was often left to do things on my own. I did my homework without extra help or prompting. I learned how to do small things such as make my own lunch when everyone else’s moms still made theirs. Elementary tasks later turned into more complex responsibilities, such as being in specific places at the right times.
As I got older, I began to mature much faster than Brandon did. He was no longer my big brother; I began to assume both the oldest child and big sister roles. For the first time my parents had to discuss extending a child’s weekend curfew and think about their baby leaving for college. I play the big sister role in that I always look out for my brother. Brandon watches everything I do, and I know he pays more attention to my actions then I once realized. Since starting high school, I have worked to lead by example.
There are days when I wish life was not this way. Sometimes I wish that my brother could be a part of my life in the same way that my friends’ older siblings were part of theirs. I get frustrated when I have so much to do after school and want nothing more than to laze around like my brother does most of the time. I used to get angry when I saw how much money my parents spent on Brandon’s school and therapies; it did not seem fair that they often denied simple things that I asked for. Being Brandon’s sister has taught me that people’s capacity for work and achievement varies greatly, and that life simply isn’t always fair.
Little is known about the cause of autism and I worry that it could run in my genes. I also worry about my role in Brandon’s life, especially after my parents are longer able to look out for him. However, if there is one thing I that have learned from being a sibling of a disabled child, it is that you can get through anything one day at a time and that every challenge will shape you in a positive manner. Everything happens for a reason. In my moments of frustration I ask “Why me?” but other times I realize that I am more ambitious, self-reliant, and mature because of Brandon’s influence. I am proud of the person I have become because of my brother’s condition, and now I realize it is an honor – not a liability, as I believed as a child – to be Brandon’s sister.
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