By Emily Hecht
For twenty-one years I have had a brother who has High-Functioning Autism. Some might say that having a sibling with any type of special need can be difficult, challenging, often times overwhelming, and even frustrating. However, being a sibling to someone who has a disability can also be exciting, motivational, powerful, and stimulating. I have experienced situations with my brother where I have felt all of those emotions, sometimes even at the same time. I firmly believe that I have grown up very differently from other young adults who have not been raised with a sibling with disabilities. Although I did all of the things that other children my age did, like play sports, participate in drama classes and go to camp, something was always different.
Unlike most boys, my brother hated sports and still does, probably because he could never tolerate physical contact even from a loving hug. Most girls my age who were interested in sports spent hours playing outside with their older brothers; however, I did not because my brother preferred to stay inside and watch TV or play on the computer. Most boys did not want to play imaginative games with their little sisters, but since I was interested in drama, I would enter my brother’s sometimes-imaginative world and we would act out scenes from movies or make up skits and scenarios.
Both my brother and I went to camp and for a long time we both went to Camp Milldale, where my brother was in the Inclusion program. Although it was great that we were able to go to the same camp, I constantly worried about him. I worried if kids in his bunk were making fun of him; I worried if his counselors knew where he was. I worried about everything. Although not all of these situations were bad, I had very different experiences from other children my age, and they significantly shaped not only my early childhood but they continue to affect me to the present as well.
I feel as if my parents did an amazing job making sure that I received enough attention, felt comfortable in my own skin, and felt comfortable being open and honest with those around me about my brother. Although it took some time, and it did not happen overnight, I truly see having a sibling with a disability as a blessing, and nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed by. But developing these thoughts stems from the compassion and love my parents gave both to me and to my brother, and the individual attention and support I received throughout my childhood and young adulthood. My parents anticipated how I might react in certain situations with my brother and my peers, thought about what could be embarrassing or make me stand out, and they tried their hardest to make sure that I was always comfortable and never felt different or isolated from others, despite the constant differences I always experienced.
Growing up with a sibling with special needs has changed my life as I believe I grew up differently from other kids my age. But it has also motivated me to dedicate my life to children with disabilities as I am currently pursuing a career in Occupational Therapy. My love for my brother, his abilities and the special things about him that make him unique, as well as all of the children I have met through my pursuits and experiences, have truly pushed me to devote my energy and passion in my life to children with special needs.
By Emily Hecht
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