My brother and I were born 8 years apart. I was the first-born, the first grandchild, I reigned supreme for 8 years. Then this tiny, goofy, yellow pampered ball of fire exploded into my life and I knew that nothing would ever be the same again.
Raising a child, in general, demands extraordinary strength. When autism joins in, those demands are the only thing you have time for. Every minute of every day is about autism, and that means that there’s little time for the ‘Others’; the siblings become bystanders.
Their silence resonates in their misbehaving at school, picking up bad habits and hanging out with questionable friends. The way the Others are affected can take as many forms as can autism.
As a sibling, older or younger, you notice the balance shifting, you see how much time is spent on each of you and you feel the need for attention. Your parents only talk about autism, and you can only trace it back to one person. It causes resentment. Getting introduced to new people was always “This is Christos, he is a child with autism, and this is his sister”.
My mum told me that when Christos was born I used to climb into bed and ask to drink milk from the bottle. I was 8 years old! When he was diagnosed I started acting out at school.
I used to get annoyed when he played with my toys or when he watched my video tapes because he broke everything.
Through personal experience, as well as my discussions with other Others, the majority deals with jealousy first but later in life we have the ‘Ahh’ moment; when the feeling shifts into a powerful realisation that we have become who we were always meant to be because of them.
This moment of enlightenment comes from years of passive learning. Learning to read, research and implement ways to help a loved one, learning to weigh the pros and cons of every situation, being pushed out of your comfort zone every day, witnessing the strength of the people that raised you, and seeing how someone so small can be so fierce, how someone who cannot speak can evolve right in front of your eyes.
We grow up too soon, we cope with too much, we are excruciatingly passionate, embarrassingly understanding, and we know that every day is worthwhile.
Being an Other means we learn skills we wouldn't otherwise have. We become resilient adults because being an Other doesn't end with childhood.
The concerns of toys and attention fade and as adults we start thinking of the future and develop a sense of responsibility that makes it difficult for us to leave home and begin an independent life.
However, being an Other drives us and it makes us better. So, when you meet someone with autism, take a moment to take it in, see beyond the autism and realise that they are inspiring, they can motivate greatness without ever saying a word.
A couple of years ago, I was travelling to Cyprus and I was sat next to two boys on the plane, I think they were brothers. One of the boys looked older and had a disability. He could speak but, like my brother, I realised you would have had to live with him to know exactly what he said. The younger brother had a big bag with all the necessities in it, he helped his brother sit down, fasten his seatbelt and kept him occupied for the flight. It was small things like he got up to get his food from the bag and made sure to feed him first and then eat himself, he made sure to give him water, to ensure he was comfortable when he wanted to sleep.
The entire flight I probably only read a couple of pages of my book. It was so hard to not be fascinated by this boy - who couldn't have been more than 20 - who was so responsible, so in the zone, so in control. It was inspiring to see another Other in action.
While writing the blog, I've met sisters from all over the world. Every sibling I’ve met has been involved in raising awareness, their words and their paths in life are guided by their love for their siblings.
I’ve met an ambassador for an autism organisation in Canada who also released a song about her two brothers who are on the spectrum; I follow a page on facebook which is managed by a sister and follows the journey of her amazing brother, who is on the spectrum; I had a message from a sister a couple of years ago telling me about her younger brother with autism and how she was in college getting her diploma and on her way to becoming a Developmental Services Worker; another had studied speech therapy and another was due to study Cognitive Science Studies because she wanted to "show the world true autism and what it can create".
Being an autism sibling is what I am proudest of. Not only am I able to be constantly inspired by my family and Christos but I have had the opportunity to meet so many Others, so many beautiful souls through sharing our story.
Our silent bond is a comfort; we live the same lives in different cities, with different people, feeling the same emotions and even though we have never met, we are siblings.
Happy Sibling day all, give your brother or sister an extra hard time in honour of today.
You can read more about Dora and Cristos by visiting Dora's blog here