I may be 13 years older than my little brother, but trust me, that’s where any talk of little ends. He’s 6’3” and broad, so broad that Papi is pretty sure he’s lifting the furniture in his room to work on his gains while we’re sleeping. He likes his world and surroundings predictable and comfortable: A morning sitdown in the yard where he can listen to the quietness, a bag of Utz sour cream potato chips and a slice of pizza like clockwork from my dad on Friday nights, and opening day tickets to whatever big blockbuster animated film is in theaters.
Now that he’s 22, that world is changing. For starters, his parents are getting older, which means that we have to take a serious look at his future living situation. And due to his size, we’re terrified of him being misunderstood when he’s out alone, being gunned down by officers because they shot first without taking a second to consider his condition. While these very real concerns have caused hushed conversations, we try our best to keep his life as consistent as possible. That’s where having a big sister comes in.
In his quiet, his photographic memory takes snapshots of the things that are shaping his life and awareness, his fears and his happiness.
My chats with my little brother are short, sweet, and to the point. “I love you, Jada.” “I saw Ferdinand, Jada.” “Happy Easter, Jada.” My replies usually consist of, “So cool! I love you more.” And that’s enough to put a smile on both of our faces for a week. Understanding autism is to understand that people with autism need space. This is something I can completely understand being an introvert, but he needs it for different reasons. In his quiet, his photographic memory takes snapshots of the things that are shaping his life and awareness, his fears and his happiness. Whether he’s repeating verbatim the script of an entire television show from beginning to end, or remembering the time when a younger me brought Dawson’s Creek videotapes to watch with dad, his quiet shapes the life he loves, despite any “real” planning for the future my dad might have for him.
But most importantly, my brother has taught me to reconsider what is “normal.” What does that mean anyway? I know that I (like everyone) have my stuff that makes me feel like I’m from outer space, and no one could possibly understand. My brother nixes the timetables we all have in our heads. College by 18. First house by 30. Married with three kids by 35. I’m dealing with so many concerns and achievements that are happening outside of me, that I’m not even processing what’s happening inside me right now. Like how I feel when I have my nightly cup of tea while reading a book. How much I love the way my dog curls her head on my feet when it’s time for bed. That it’s important that my little brother calls and leaves me with the one sentence he needs me to know every Friday night, and that time stops for him at that moment.
As we try to learn more about autism and its impact on children and adults on #WorldAutismDay, I choose to uplift the 6’3,” little brother who’s grown up to be a man full of awareness and an understanding of the world that is one of a kind.