Three teenagers laughing and smiling together
15 Jan

Having a sibling on the autism spectrum

There really isn’t anyone I know whose met Liam and doesn’t adore him. He is such a gentle, kind, funny and sweet soul that I’m lucky enough to call my little brother.

I was 10 years old when Liam was diagnosed with Autism at the age of 2. I vividly remember coming home that day from school, knowing we were going to find out the diagnosis. Mum opened the door for me and broke the news and immediately, tears streamed down my face. My mum instantly reassured me and said “sweetheart, there’s nothing that’s changed about him, he’s still our same Liam”. Those words have forever resonated with me and will always remain ingrained in my mind.

Liam and I have a relatively large age gap. Between our 8-year age difference and his developmental delay, I’ve always seen my connection with him more as a second mother rather than a sister. For many years, Liam couldn’t form a sentence which therefore prevented us from conversing and connecting as siblings. Although the feeling of not connecting with my own brother was difficult and sometimes disheartening, it was simply my reality. I would be lying if I said that I’ve never thought about Liam being “normal” and how much easier life could’ve been for my family.

My first exposure to a sibling with a disability was while watching the movie “There’s Something About Mary” a few years after Liam’s diagnosis. Mary, played by Cameron Diaz has a mentally disabled brother who she put first and foremost. As a young girl, seeing Cameron Diaz play the “girl next door” character who takes care of her brother and doesn’t get embarrassed by his disability, was really inspiring for me. I admired how much she cared and supported him and I wanted to be the exact same for Liam.  

As the years progressed, Liam continued to surprise us. For most of Liam’s life, he partook in 40 hours of ABA therapy a week. Most days after school, I would go down to our basement-turned-therapy room to help out with any interactive/social exercises. One particular day, we were doing a “two step instruction” exercise. This consisted of doing two consecutive actions, which can prove to be difficult for any child with a disability. We would bounce a ball and recite the alphabet. Once completed, his therapist decided to challenge Liam and recite the alphabet backwards whilst continuing to bounce the ball. To our surprise, Liam didn’t need to reference the alphabet that was listed on the wall. Without having ever done this exercise before, he knew the alphabet backwards by heart.

We were blown away!

The media and movies often portray people with autism in a stereotypical way so it’s quite natural for society to assume that that they are predisposed to having special skills or talents. I can’t say that I never secretly wished this for my brother. Knowing the alphabet backwards may not be anything particularly special, but to me, Liam had a photographic memory and was officially a GENIUS! You better believe that I showed every single one of my friends and family. So much so that Liam started to refuse reciting it… I may have abused this “talent” a little too much.

Moments like these were the first of many times that I was truly blown away by Liam. More recently, my family and I viewed the documentary “DAD, a film about autism and fatherhood”. In one part, one of the dads says: “Yes, I wish that he didn’t have autism, but I’m really grateful for the fact that I’ve got to know my son for who he is”. This statement was taken a little too literally by Liam, now 17 years old. Right after the movie, Liam looked at me and said “Kels, did you hear that dad who wished his son didn’t have autism? Do you wish I didn’t have autism?”. I was dumbfounded that Liam even understood the depth of his words and could relate it back to himself. I said “Liam, of course I don’t wish that, I would never want you to not have autism” and he said “good, I think that boy should have autism because he’s so cool”. I couldn’t have said it better myself.  

As the years go on, Liam continues to push barriers.

For a boy who was meant to be non-verbal and show little emotion, he really is the most loving and chatty boy I know. He’s seen most movies under the sun and knows every line to every single movie he’s seen. He dreams to be a famous YouTuber and insists we call him by his want-to-be YouTube name – Cocoloco546. I couldn’t love Liam more if I tried. Despite the tantrums, sometimes embarrassing moments and the financial and emotional difficulties my family has had to endure, I can confidently say that we wouldn’t have it any other way.

It’s brought us closer as a family, and we’re better people for it.

Although Liam required a lot of attention as a child, my parents made sure that we were never left far behind. I truly think this is key to a family – supporting all your children as equally as you can, especially when one has a disability, ensures no jealousy or lack of attention and promotes love and support for one another. Differences, whether they be physical or mental, should be celebrated.

I’ll forever do my best to love and cherish all of Liam’s differences for the rest of his life. I couldn’t be more grateful to have him as my little brother.

Kelsey – proud sister to Liam

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