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Three Lessons My Brother On The Autism Spectrum Taught Me

Photo by Amy Shamblen on Unsplash

My brother, Emir, is an 18-year-old, non-verbal individual on the autism spectrum. He needs 24/7 care. My family needs to help him with everyday tasks like getting dressed, making food. He frequently throws temper tantrums by screaming and hitting himself and others near him. He needs constant supervision in order to keep him safe.

Out of everyone I met in my life, my brother, without any doubt, has influenced me the most. He influences the way I treat other people. He gave me the lens through which I view the world. He is the main reason for the career path I chose for myself. He is the reason why I am passionate about helping individuals with different abilities.

Over the years he taught me so much about life, empathy, and the importance and beauty of different abilities. I hope to carry on the lessons he taught me, in order to see the change I wish to see in the world with inclusive abilities. These three lessons are just some of the lessons I’ve learned from him, that I wish to pass on to others.

1. Always, always put yourself in other people’s shoes

Since my brother is non-verbal, he has a hard time expressing his feelings. Over the years, we’ve learned that if he squeezes his hand, that means he is hungry and if he grabs his bathrobe, he wants to take a bath. We learned that if he takes our hand and leads us to the sunroom, he wants a cup of noodle soup. We know that he loves to eat ramen noodle soup and will be upset if we don’t have one in the house.

Although we learned his repetitive behavior, just like everyone else, there are moments he wants something out of the blue and has a hard time explaining it. Those times when we don’t understand what he wants, understandable he will get frustrated and eventually throw a temper tantrum.

I can’t imagine how he sees the world. I can, however, try to put myself in his shoes, and I would like to try to paint a picture for you as well.

Imagine if you were in a foreign country where you didn’t speak the language. You don’t have your phone so you cannot use any translation apps. Wouldn’t you get upset or a little frustrated if you wanted to ask a foreigner directions and they didn’t understand you?

Now, although I can never explain how my brother views the world and the reasons why he gets frustrated, the best way I can imagine his frustration is if I was in a foreign world where I didn’t speak the language.

Taking my brother out of the picture, I think putting yourself in other people’s shoes to see their perspective can do wonders in the world, where the world will be a little kinder.

2. It’s important to be an advocate and educate others

When my family is out in public and my brother runs around or sometimes throws temper tantrums, we get stares and people don’t know what’s happening. One day we were all in an elevator and my brother started yelling and the women in the elevator started yelling in terror and pressed the next stop to leave and said some vulgar words. In another incident, one parent explained to her child that my brother’s behavior was crazy. At a zoom meeting one day, my brother started yelling from the other house, and my co-worker while laughing and confused didn’t know what to say.

I used to get very upset by seeing people’s reactions and often cry after those interactions when other people don’t understand why he does the things that he does. But now, I realize that they react the way they do because they are not familiar with him and do not know him.

Instead of getting upset, it’s important to educate other people so they learn and become more compassionate toward people that are different than them. The more I talk to others about my brother’s autism and his behaviors, the more I can see them understanding and act more compassionately.

3. Anything is possible.

Despite his disability, my brother has so much to offer to the world. He loves science, he watches science videos all day long. He loves to swim. I can’t swim but he can! He is a better athlete than I am. Once he learns a skill, he is great at repeatedly doing the same task.

A few years ago, we wouldn’t even leave him in his own room, because we would be scared that he would injure himself. Today he has his own room and likes to stay in his room independently. A few years ago, we had to turn on the TV for him to watch, now he grabs his iPad and navigates Youtube on his own, watching the movie he likes on his own. When he was younger, he used to run everywhere when we went out, now he follows us and comes when we tell him to come.

I know that he will be able to do so many more things. He came so much so far, and he has so much to go.

Every single person in the world has something to offer.

These three lessons are just the tip of the iceberg for me. I continuously learn from him and I hope that others will also learn to treat others who are different, kinder.

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