What I have learned from my autistic brother
The relationship I have with my brother William is probably similar to any other sibling relationships, except when it isn’t. When you grow up with someone who cannot verbally communicate, you have to think outside of the box. When I was younger, I desperately wished I knew what William was thinking or what he wanted to tell me. It felt like everything I said to him was wasted effort. There were periods when I couldn’t understand why it felt like my parents put my brother first over everything. At times I resented it. However, with time, maturity and better understanding, it all made sense. It took a lot of reflection to realise how superhuman my parents were (and still are). I can’t help but feel a sense of guilt for having any feelings of resentment as a child. Every day I am grateful to them for being the glue that stuck us all together.
Having a non-verbal sibling
Some days are challenging; when William feels misunderstood, he cries - a lot. Sometimes for hours upon end. The combination of his wordlessness and my sense of hopelessness breaks my heart. In those moments, there is nothing I can do to make it better. Can you imagine how agonising it must be when you are the only person in the room who cannot express themselves verbally? This is William’s reality. On the one hand, when William feels misunderstood or upset, his tears and anguish are felt more deeply to me than any other person in my life. Equally, it makes perfect sense that when my brother is happy, the whole room can feel it. He has this ability to make everyone feel his love. His laugh is the most infectious and joyous laugh known to me.
As William turns 25 today, here are some of the things I have learnt from him:
- Patience. I believe I am able to persevere through difficult periods by letting time heal all; thanks to William.
- Empathy. Without a doubt, my empathetic nature stems from my brother. I pride myself in my ability to feel other people's emotions, no matter how big or small.
- Being a better communicator. Having to communicate beyond words, whether it's through dancing to Disney clips with William to sharing our love of eating chicken, I have learnt that there are other ways to communicate.
Living with William makes you realise the smallest joys in life are also the most important. When he randomly comes over to hug me, I feel most at home; for me, it is love at its purest form. Our unbreakable sibling bond is strengthened by being creative in our communication and the love that we have for one another.
I don’t remember the day when I found out William had autism, but I cannot recall a day without it. If he could read this, I would want him to know that he should continue to be the blessing and joy that he is to my family and to never ever change. Happy 25th birthday, not-so-little-bro.
About Julia Thanh
Julia Thanh was born and raised in London and has lived in Senegal and Vietnam. She has worked in International Education for five years and is currently a Community Lead for a leading tech school. Outside of work, she is passionate about empowering the British Vietnamese community. She also is a proud fundraiser for Ambitious about Autism where her brother William was a pupil during his teenage years.