Editorial Notebook

Letting go, building strength from independence

My younger brother, Jonathan, is autistic. It’s a fact that I don’t talk about with a lot of people; because it doesn’t seem to concern anyone except for my family and me. That being said, my brother has recently changed my perspective on disabilities, and I think it is important to share. Now, at the age of seven, my brother has already become a smart, independent individual.

When he was two years old, Jonathan developed a seizure disorder that affected his left temporal lobe, the part of the brain that controls speech. As a result, he is unable to speak, most likely forever. This realization was hard on my family, and especially hard on me as his older sister. I was 11 when he was born; I have vivid memories of holding him as a baby, excited at the idea of no longer being the youngest in the family. After hearing this news, I saw him as defenseless, in desperate need of caretaking.

Through the following years, I spent as much time as I could with him. I would watch his favorite movies with him, sing songs to him, and take him for walks outside. There was one day that we watched the movie Frozen five times. If we ever had friends or family over, I always spent the time with Jonathan in the other room, because he’d rather spend time away from the crowd. We were completely attached to one another. This made it excruciatingly difficult for me when I was getting ready to leave for college. I was ready to get some much-needed isolation from my family, yet I felt uneasy knowing my brother and I wouldn’t be able to do all of the activities we had been enjoying. However, when I went back home over the Columbus Day weekend, I was surprised to see how much he had changed. While home, Jonathan would sit alone, quietly watching videos. If he was thirsty, he would take milk from the fridge and bring it to me to pour him a glass. Though he still doesn’t like being touched and gets anxious in social situations, he showed an ability to take care of himself.

I was so sure that, because of Jonathan’s disabilities, I would need to protect and help him throughout his life. But the truth was, he just needed the time to become more confident. People with disabilities aren’t people who should be written off; they should be provided with enough care and support so that they can mature at their own pace.