April is Autism Awareness Month, and it always has a special importance to me because of my brother, Jason. I think a lot of people see the blue for Autism Awareness Day and think it’s great, but they don’t realize so much more goes into Autism and Autism Awareness than that. If you’ve grown up in North East or you’ve known me for a while, you probably know or have heard about my other two brothers, David and Josh, but most people don’t know Jason. Let me tell you a little about him and what growing up with and loving someone with autism has been like.
Like me, Jason is 24, soon to be 25. Like me, Jason loves goofing around, food, pretty girls, and sleeping in on Sundays. But Jason is a lot like a time capsule from our childhood, as many of the things he likes even today are the things that we did and watched before I ever started kindergarten. He loves Sesame Street and when they sing the alphabet. He gets upset when the crows make fun of Dumbo in the Disney movie. He watches Christmas movies in June and falls asleep every night with a Thomas the Tank Engine comforter. Jason is also non-verbal.
I love the promotion of autism and letting everyone know of the triumphs those with autism achieve every day. But I also think a lot of people don’t know about the behind the scenes. Every person with autism is different, and I can only speak to my experiences, but for me autism is a lot like life in that there are many ups and downs.
For me, autism is growing up trying to understand stims, obsessions and tantrums. Autism is going to school and sharing classes with one triplet brother while the other brother goes to the special ed classes at a completely different school. Autism is going to elementary school, and, when your school adds special education, seeing your brother across the lunchroom with his special education class and hearing the other kids in your class make fun of them. Autism is sometimes only having one parent at your sporting event because the other one had to be with your brother. Autism is your parents trying to balance between making sure the needs of their son with autism are being met with giving attention and love to their other three sons. Autism is being a teenager and watching helplessly as your brother gets angry and attacks your mother. Autism is being 17 and having to deal with the reality that your brother is going to a group home on weekdays so that he can receive even more care. Autism is taking the picture I’ve attached with this text twenty times because he thought it was funny to keep reaching out to steal the phone. Autism is being scared because you know one day you’re going to move away and you don’t know if your brother will ever think about you or miss you because he can’t talk about it.
For all those things, autism is also having a brother be by your side no matter what. Autism for Jason is not having to worry or get upset over girls or jobs or money, but instead because mom said no to a fourth piece of pizza. Autism is showing affection and getting hugs consistently. Autism is finding out what makes your brother laugh and then always being able to go to them when your brother is having a problem. Autism is your brother asking for you to tuck him in to his Thomas the Tank Engine comforter at night, which you love because it gives you a chance to spend quality time with him and let him know you love him. Autism is seeing the innocence of someone who loves purely and is not hardened by a rough world. Autism is someone finding pleasure in some of the most simple things in life like paper, bubbles, and clothes hangers. Autism is someone living life the way they want to unapologetically. Autism is forming the bond of brotherhood that can never be broken.
In living with Jason for almost 25 years, I know him pretty well. I know the experiences we’ve had together, good and bad. I know what he likes and what he doesn’t. But I know two things the most out of everything — one, that I am blessed to have my brother in my life, and two, that although his life is not considered “normal” or “typical,” my brother is happy. My brother cannot be judged highly on his academic prowess or his job or his status or how much money he has, but my brother absolutely has happiness in his life. Isn’t that what we’re all searching for? My brother is happy in his world, and rather than judge it or wish that it were different, I do my best to be part of that world and do what I can to contribute to it.