My Brother Patrick – Autism Awareness Month
What is Autism?
Autism is an everyday part of my life. Autism is a neurological disorder that disrupts the development of communicative, social, and cognitive skills. Neurological disorders affect someone’s brain, they are invisible. You cannot look at someone and tell they are an individual with Autism, which is both a good and bad thing. People with Autism find it difficult to form relationships such as making friends because they have a tough time interacting reciprocally with others. Communicative delays are exemplified by a delay or even a complete lack of language. In the case of people with verbal ability, they are often unable to start or maintain a conversation with someone; their speech is characterized by something called echolalia when they will repeat a phrase over… and over…and over. Individuals with Autism usually are extremely talented in activities such as music or memorization. Kids with Autism sometimes flap their hands or rock their bodies making potential friends uncomfortable.
If you name a Beatle’s song my brother will tell you the exact day, month and year it was released. Just this morning he told me Justin Bieber shares a birthday with Roger Daltrey from the Who! If you ask Pat the last time we went to the antique store in Maine he will tell you it was June 4th, 2001, a Thursday and it was raining. Pat can recall any date regarding the smallest of occasions. The last time he ate shrimp was on a Wednesday, six years ago. He will read ten pages of a book, from Dr. Seuss to Ayn Rand, and then recite it back to you. Pat has unique abilities unlike anyone I have ever met. He is brilliant. He is priceless. His brain works in ways that mine never will. But he does not fit society’s “norm” and these amazing skills often go unappreciated.
I have had a unique life. I grew up with a little brother whose needs were always more important than mine. Acceptance took longer than I wanted it to, strange looks when Pat acted out in public, the uncomfortable look on my friends’ faces when after months of thinking about it I decided I trusted them enough to come to my house. People fear what they do not understand. Please don’t ever be afraid to ask someone with a disability or someone close to them a question.
Understanding is the key to acceptance; to understand that everyone is different and some people need extra help, extra time, extra attention and a little extra love. Autism exposes some tough, scary feelings and my parents went through a lot of hard times. It forces you to reevaluate and abandon the life you may have envisioned and start down a new, untraveled, unplanned path. Yet my parents are the most amazing people I have ever met and with their love and dedication, Pat and I have grown into young adults with the utmost respect and gratitude for everything we have.
Autism manifests itself to everyone around it. It affects me, it affects you.
To be the sister of a child with Autism means every day is crazy and you never know what to expect, it’s stressful, it’s chaotic. You grow up very quickly. It means you don’t exactly know what the future will bring. You deal with a lot of emotions and anxieties that never cross other 8 years olds minds. Why are those kids staring at my brother? What are they saying? Please stop flapping your arms. You hate your sibling, you love your sibling. It is overwhelming at first and that’s okay.
If you have a sibling who has a disability, you know where I am coming from. You lose a lot-that trip to Disney would overwhelm him and your first violin concert might irritate his sensory issues. However, what you gain are irreplaceable life experiences that turn you into a strong, independent and caring adult who knows the true meaning of love, hard work, patience and family.
When I was little they said Pat would basically never speak. I wondered if my brother would ever be able to talk to me and tell me how he felt and why he cried and screamed all the time. I always wondered why we couldn’t leave the house without tears, even to go to the grocery store or why my mom was tying his shoes at ten years old. I didn’t understand why he didn’t respond to his own name while we screamed “Patrick!” and looked for hours for him as he sat behind a bookcase at Fidelity House and my mom cried cause she thought he was gone.
I wondered if he only knew me as the brown hair stick figure his therapist drew and labeled “Sister- Natalie” in his book of words he would point to when he tried to say something. I wondered if he knew I was his sister, and what it meant to have a big sister. It means you always have someone looking out for you, worrying about you and wishing the best for you. Then he proved everyone wrong and he spoke. I wondered if he would ever be able to tie his shoes, and when he learned how to tie his shoes, I wondered if he would ever be able to ride a bike. Pat now rides his bike all over the place all by himself. He is graduating high school. He volunteers every month at food pantries and homeless shelters. He has made strides that could inspire anyone on their darkest days. Now I wonder if he’ll ever be able to drive a car, or live by himself.
While there are a lot of things I don’t know… I do know there is nothing Pat can’t do… he will face challenges we will never face but he can do anything. And if he lives with me for the rest of my life I will be the luckiest big sister in the whole world to have every day blessed by the honesty, innocence and joy that someone with Autism brings. I am grateful for every single thing I have, and you should be to. Don’t ever pity yourself. You are incredibly blessed for whatever it is that you have and whoever you can call your family or call a true friend. Disabilities humble you because you realize all the money in the world, good grades, the newest iPhone, and a spotless kitchen…none of those things can fix this. Disabilities bring you back to the bare basics where being kind, helpful, patient and loving as much as you can are the most important attributes.
To everyone who has ever been blessed enough to meet Pat, understand that a disability does not give you the right to ever feel you are worthier than someone else. Be the bigger person, say ‘Hello’ first, get informed, ask questions, BE PATIENT, do not judge, and say hello. Don’t use the “r-word”, it’s hurtful. It is hurtful to my brother, it is hurtful to my parents, it is hurtful to me and to every single person who cares about someone who is different. Do what you can to help, with your time, mind or money.
And to Patrick “Biggie” Breen, I love you more than words will ever be able to describe. I would not trade you for the anything. I would not change anything and I would go to the ends of the world for you. The struggles make us stronger. I am the luckiest girl in the world to have learned what life is genuinely about. It’s about love. Thank you.
Oh and he needs a date to prom. He told me his dream girl is “nice, funny, and down to Earth… looks aren’t important.”