My Brother, the Unexpected Role Model and Motivation in My Life

When I was 2, my baby brother was born into our family. We lived at the time out on a farm, in the boondocks. My parents in no way suspected that anything was wrong with their second born child, until they realized that Mark, my brother, wasn’t as interested in playing with me, as he was in watching infomercials and the same cartoons over and over, then repeating what he could in mumbled nonsense. (For lack of a better explanation)

By the time Mark got to the average age that you would expect your child to begin saying his first words, Mark would only mumble 1-800 numbers off commercials he had memorized. His memory was astonishing, and by the time he was 3, he began reading ads out of magazines, since he wasn’t too interested in normal childhood books.

Eventually, my parents decided that there must be something wrong, so they took him to the Waismann Center in Madison Wisconsin. There they did numerous tests that concluded that Mark did in fact have autism, but he was on the lower end of the spectrum. My parents were astounded, since in 1989 they didn’t know much about autism, and what it meant for the future.

I remember wondering why my brother didn’t want to play with me, like I had so hoped he would. Instead he liked his TV, music, and video games. One time he actually snuck out of the house and we found him at the neighbors playing their video games. He really didn’t comprehend the concept of right or wrong, and what “no” meant. It was very trying on our whole family.

When I was 5, my mom had another baby boy, who we prayed wouldn’t have the same problems that Mark did. Michael ended up being a very athletic, outgoing child, and we became close. I used to fantasize, though, that Mark really wasn’t autistic and that when no one else was around, he would only talk to me. See, because normally Mark’s “talking” consisted of moans and flapping his hands.

I remember one summer afternoon, Mark was outside playing on the driveway with chalk, and my mom came out to look at what he was writing. She couldn’t believe it. He was writing dates, days of the week, and years from before he was even born. My mom went in to get a calendar to see if his days matched the dates, and to her astonishment, they were ALL right. Now, you can still ask Mark what day of the week was any date of any year and he can tell you. That’s an amazing part of the brain that he is able to use.

As Mark grew up, there were all sorts of studies that came about that we’d hear claims to the latest “cure” for autism. Some involved something with the serotonin from a pig, others were as pleasant as swimming with the dolphins. The one we tried was called auditory training, because Mark had extreme sensitivity to loud music or sounds. This training was supposed to minimize the high and low frequencies so his hearing would be more stable. We believed this worked to certain extent, since he no longer runs around with his hands over his ears screaming and crying.

I am now 21 years old, Mark is 19, and Michael is 16. We’ve all grown a great deal, and Mark, more than any of us. He is beginning to be able to hold conversations, although many of his responses are the same every time. He knows what you’re thinking and understands you, and he really hates it when he sees me cry. Mark and I have gotten so close over the years, that I have realized that if I hadn’t had him as my brother, I would be a totally different person. He has taught me life lessons that I never could have imagined learning from him, or anyone else for that matter. But because of him, I am who I am, and I wouldn’t change that for anything in the world.

I still listen to all the news stories about the new advancements in the “cure” for autism, but honestly, Mark knows who he is, and he’s accepted it, and most importantly, he’s happy. You have never seen a more smiley kid. I want the best for him, but to me, these risky treatments don’t seem worth it when he’s so happy and so loving toward his family. Why take that away or make him start all over? He’s grown so much in the last 19 years that I can’t wait to see what the future brings for us. My brother’s my hero, in so many ways, most people just couldn’t understand. We have an unspoken bond between us; when he can’t express to me with words what he means; I still know exactly what he’s trying to say. And that’s a special bond that will never be broken between me and my amazing, autistic brother. It’s one bond that would be hard for anyone else to really ever comprehend.

My Brother is my hero, my motivation, my smile when he sees me frown. I can never take for granted the life I have; I can only help make his be the most fulfilling life he can imagine. My brother means the world to me, and as much as I’ve said in the past that I wish he was “normal”, I finally realized that he is normal, to me and to my family and to our friends. And accepting that means that Mark was able to feel that warmth as he understood that it was okay, and that it always would be okay, because he has so many people who love him and are helping him build his independence and begin a life of his own.

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