Every day 67 children are diagnosed with a disease that impairs their social skills, their motor skills and their ability to communicate. It is called Autism, and the number of children diagnosed with this disease is steadily inclining.
In 1996, after receiving numerous tests and examinations my twin brother, Nicky was diagnosed with severe Autism and Cystic Fibrosis. I believe that it is important to face the challenges of life with an open mind, as my parents did. At the time he was two years old and I too was tested but surprisingly showed no signs of abnormal development. No one knows why this is, why one twin was diagnosed with autism and the other, perfectly healthy. I believe in the luck of the draw.
As we grew up together we participated in similar activities coloring, playing with toys, and riding tricycles. But when I was ready to enroll at the local elementary school, Nicky could no longer keep up and he was unable to attend school with me. It was hard for me to understand, I couldn’t grasp the idea that I had to go to school while Nicky did not. At the time, I was too young to fully understand the situation. And I soon developed jealousy for the freedom I wrongly assumed he had.
As the years wore on I learned that I was the lucky one, in that I had the ability to attend school, while Nicky could not. I was fully able to communicate my thoughts and emotions, while Nicky was unable to perceive his own. I believe that communicating and consoling others is one of the many keys to sanity. Thus it is nearly impossible to imagine what life is like for those who cannot. And as I developed the knowledge that I was the lucky one, I entered a stage that every child goes through in his or her lifetime. This stage has numerous titles; some call it growing up, while others call it ╥being your average teen╙. However no matter how you address it, all those names describe one universal emotion: When you’re hyperaware of what your peers observe and think of you. Entering this phase of life with an autistic brother was a challenge. In every public place it felt as if all eyes were on my unbelievably loud brother, jumping up and down as if he were on a trampoline. I spent many outings fretting over what those strangers thought of my brother and I, while I constantly tried to quiet him down, embarrassed by his unusual actions. When my friends saw Nicky I would lead them away from him, to avoid having to explain the obvious difference between my twin and the average child.
This stage lasted throughout three years of my childhood. I believe that the need to fit in, to stick to the status quo, is nearly impossible to avoid. I devoted my time in public, and in front of my friends to making my brother seem normal. I often would turn to my parents for help, while trying to hide Nicky’s outbursts. Yet they never offered a helping hand. I was constantly frustrated with them, for simply ignoring the strangers bewildered stares, while doing nothing to help me control my brother.
I believe that it was their attitude, towards what was happening that forced me to see the situation in a different light. I soon began to question my initial reactions; why did I care what these strangers thought? Why should I be embarrassed? When I asked myself this I found that I was unable to answer. There was absolutely no point in my attempts to quiet my brother. I had spent myriad outings that I would have otherwise enjoyed, worrying about what others thought of me. Nicky was simply unable to control himself and he wasn’t really bothering anybody. It has taken me all of my life, to understand why my parents wouldn’t help me suppress Nicky, why they seemed to not notice the stares of strangers. And now I finally understand.
Whenever I bring a new friend home today, I introduce them to my brother and enjoy watching their various reactions as they meet my mysterious twin for the first time. Many of them have never met a child with Autism, and most of them have never heard the word Cystic Fibrosis. Thus I have the pleasure of explaining this disease in graphic detail, often times scaring my newly acquired friend. But hey, a healthy dose of fear never hurt anybody.
I now realize that my brother has taught me numerous things without even trying. I believe that many situations, which are perceived as bad, we can gain a vast amount of knowledge from, if we only keep an open mind. There was no reason for trying to hide my autistic brother. There is no point in trying to control, the uncontrollable.
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