The Sibling Side of Autism

I’ve always known that I had a brother who was different. We are very close, but don’t get the privilege of having that rival older-brother/younger-sister relationship because my brother Ryan has autism. I like to consider myself the “big-little sister.” He was diagnosed when he was 4, when autism wasn’t as common as it is now. I wasn’t born yet, but I’ve heard countless stories from my parents about what it was like to get the news that their child was not typical. It was surprising and scary, but I’m proud to say my family wouldn’t want to have it any other way. Ryan has made all of us more patient, understanding and appreciative.

If you’re not sure what autism is, it’s short for Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD. It’s very likely there is someone you know who has autism; maybe you’re related to them or you know a friend who has a child with autism. However, it’s hard to describe what autism is because it has varying degrees. In Ryan’s case, he seems younger than he really is and his brain works very differently than ours. He talks in broken sentences and speaking in full sentences is something that can sometimes be a challenge to him. Ryan also doesn’t always use verbal communication. When he can’t express himself he will point, make noises, or repeat the same word over and over until he gets your attention. He also can’t practice certain activities like math, reading, writing, etc. However, some individuals with autism are gifted with amazing talents in those subjects.

Uniquely, Ryan is an avid Spice Girls and Beatles fan, loves to bowl, swim, and play basketball. I specifically remember trying to teach Ryan by using flashcards and visuals when we were younger. Then as we got older we had the chance to bond by listening to music, playing in the pool, and throwing the basketball around with him – he would make every basket, might I add. One of Ryan’s most famous qualities is his loud and contagious laugh. He is constantly giggling and gets very excited when he’s around a lot of people, yet he can be very sensitive to loud sounds and at times gets overwhelmed easily, which is a common quality of individuals with autism.

Now that I’m older and live away from home I don’t always get to see him, but when I do it goes right back to the way it’s always been and Ryan lights up with a huge smile every time he’s around his family. Ryan currently lives in Connecticut where I’m from, but in a house with three other adults with disabilities. He enjoys being on his own and he is constantly learning and improving on his behavioral and social skills.

Ryan just recently celebrated his 28th birthday with an immense amount of Chinese food, his favorite. He’s special, innocent, and sweet, and my mom always says, “he’s taught us more than any book or college credit could.”