What's It Like Growing Up With An Autistic Sibling?
Johnston resident Laura Morrow explains the joys and struggles of growing up with an autistic brother.
With autism on the rise, many families struggle to accommodate the needs of an autistic child while maintaining a normal homelife for their other children. Growing up with an autistic sibling can be a bittersweet combination of reward and enrichment — as well as one of difficulty and challenge.
Laura Morrow, a 22-year-old Johnston resident, recently spoke of her experience growing up with her 19-year-old autistic brother, Kyle.
"I used to be embarrassed by him, " she admits, "and then I'd be embarrassed of being embarrassed."
Kyle has significant speech and language delays that keep him from being able to communicate easily.
"Autism is largely a social and communication disorder," says Laura. "Kyle doesn't engage in conversation like the rest of us. He knows most words, but not how to apply them; instead, he just repeats himself and relies on pointing to pictures to get his needs met."
Not that there haven't been funny incidents in her life with regards to his communication deficits, Laura explains.
"I thought he couldn't really explain what he sees, and so I took advantage of that in high school. I was supposed to keep an eye on him after school sometimes, and I did, but sometimes I would have friends over, too, which was a big no-no when watching Kyle," Laura recalls. "One evening when my parents returned from work Kyle blurted, 'Casey ate my cookie!' Casey was a friend of mine. When my mother asked what happened he said again, 'Casey was here.' He had never done that before, so it was sort of a victory for my entire family that he was able to relay the events of the afternoon — even though he busted me out to my parents in the process!"
In spite of unusual responsibilitie,s like having to watch over a teenage brother or make sure he didn't put himself in danger (many autistic individuals struggle with the ability to maintain personal safety and need to be watched diligently while out in the community), Laura relishes the special relationship she shares with her brother.
"I know he loves me, even though he struggles to express it," says Laura. "When I went to first grade he was only three years old and couldn't talk or even communicate gesturally hardly at all, but he used to wait for me on the porch of our house to get home from school, all day."
To Laura, Kyle's message was clear, even if he couldn't express it in a conventional way.
"His patience and devotion to me were astonishing. To me, that act of waiting for me all day like that means as much as someone telling me, 'I love you,'" she says.
Kyle will never be an independent adult, and this is something Laura's family struggles with.
"I think it became harder as I got older and the gap between us seemed wider," Laura says. "A five-year-old and a two-year-old, even with one of them delayed, aren't going to be all that different. But at 15, 18, 22, it's just painfully apparent that your brother, who is only 3 chronological years younger than you, is actually developmentally decades behind."
That perspective is certainly helpful in supporting Kyle, says Laura — as is a senae of humor.
"Everyone complains about their pain-in-the-neck little siblings," she observes. "Mine is just a pain in the neck in a different way!"