Saturday, 2 April 2011

My Brother

The night my brother was born is one of my earliest memories. I was 3 years old and all I knew was that Mummy was about to pop. I went to our neighbours and watched Wallace and Gromit under my Winnie the Pooh duvet on the sofa at 6am, with no idea that the tiny human to whom my mother was currently giving birth was going to have such a massive impact on my life. I was more concerned about the evil penguin and his terrifying robotic trousers.

Like all siblings, I hated the fact that this new, tiny, screaming, parent-stealing, red-faced turnip was getting more attention than me. I frequently told my parents that I wished the tiny human - more commonly known as Ben - would go and die so I could have them all to myself again. I was a lovely child. But when I wasn't full of jealously and Ben wasn't full of sick, we got along well enough. My aunt was the first to suggest that something might be slightly wrong. She had noticed while we were staying with her that Ben seemed slightly detached and that his playing was systematic and logical, rather than imaginative and resourceful. This led to countless hospital visits, consultations, assessments and meetings, resulting in an eventual diagnosis: Ben has autism.

When I was younger, if people asked me what it means to be autistic, I would get stuck. I knew Ben was not good at queues, I knew he got angry easily, I knew he didn't like change and I knew that his autism meant that we could not have holidays without tantrums and he got lots of extra help at school. But I could not pin down what it autism actually means. On reflection, I guess that's the case with most autism. Everyone with autism is different, just like everyone without autism is different. It's very difficult to pinpoint the specific essence of this disability, but it essentially comes down to three key difficulties: social interaction, imagination and communication. All autistic and Asperger's people have these difficulties - though in different amounts. But if you think about it, we all have these difficulties but in different amounts. So really, everyone is somewhere on the autistic spectrum and some people are higher up than others.

Ben doesn't have severe autism but it is severe enough for it to have a huge impact on all of our lives. People treat him differently, we can't go on holiday without several meltdowns because he doesn't like change, he doesn't understand certain things, I can't tell him about my life without him getting bored and reciting a memorised computer manual, and he can generally be a bit of a handful. But most of the time he is kind, loving, thoughtful and bubbly. Sometimes I get jealous of the attention he gets and wish I had a sibling to whom I could talk to about what's happening in my life. But for all my complaining, I wouldn't trade him for anything or anyone. He is everything to me and I couldn't live without him. He's amazing and he's special and he's my brother. And I am the luckiest person alive to be his sister. I love him so much.