Must Love Autism

“Do you have any siblings?” 

It’s a classic first date question, and rightfully so — it’s simple and seemingly painless to answer. It leads to an easy conversation. I can’t blame anyone for asking. 

“Yep, I have a younger brother, Alex,” I’ll reply. 

The follow-up question is almost always the same. 

“How old is he?”

“He’s 23. We’re almost exactly 18 months apart. He has autism,” I always add quickly. 

As soon as I say it I wait for the reaction.

A lot of the time people respond by listing every person they know who knows someone with autism or Aspergers or another mental disability. Sometimes it’s a simple “Oh, cool!” and we move on.

Other times I get follow up questions, which I am always happy to answer. I love talking about my brother. 

“Are you two close?”

In a lot of ways, our relationship is different than most siblings. But we are, in fact, very close.

I know exactly which movies to quote to make him smile (Tarzan or Veggietales).

I know what songs to play so he’ll sing with me (anything from the musical Rent is a safe bet).

I know his McDonalds order by heart (chicken nuggets, fries, and two hamburgers with JUST ketchup and mustard).

It’s a different relationship, but it’s a good one.

“What does he do now?”

He lives at home with my parents, participates in individual and group state services, and is working on his art. 

“Will he ever live independently?”

We don’t know. Right now he’s at home and everyone is happy with that. 

I think about that question a lot, though. Will Alex ever be able to live independently? Would he be happy in a group home? Will he be safe?

I think about all of this because, after my parents are gone, those questions will fall on me to answer. I’ll be the one to make that call, to decide where he will live and with whom. 

And when the time comes I know I will want Alex to live with me, or at least live near me.

I will make sure he is safe, happy, and thriving. I will sing with him and talk about every episode of Blue’s Clues until he’s tired of talking. 

I will become his person. 

I’ve known that all my life. It is a job I don’t take lightly, but one I wholeheartedly accept.

He is my brother and I am his sister. I am his advocate. His ally. His friend. Those titles don’t go away when our parents pass away.

So when I tell dates — or even new friends — about my brother, it’s really not so simple after all. 

Because if I love someone, they must love autism. They must love Alex’s autism. It is a part of him and he is a part of me. 

If we get married, they must know Alex and autism will become part of their life, too.

Truthfully, if that happens they should consider themselves lucky because Alex is one of the best people this world has to offer.

He is funny, sweet, and honest. And, if we should be so lucky to have kids, they must know that Alex will be a part of our kids’ lives, too. They will know and love their Uncle Alex, and they will hopefully be more loving and tolerant because of it. 

It won’t be all sunshine and rainbows. Autism isn’t easy. There will be frustrations and mistakes and the occasional ear-piercing screech (hopefully from Alex and not from anyone else).

Can I count on this person to love him anyway? There will be extremely hard decisions that I have to make. Can I count on them to support me? 

If not, that’s okay. It’s a lot.

However, if that’s the case I need to know because if someone can’t do those things, I can’t be with them. And I would rather know now than find out a year or ten years down the line.

I deserve to know, and so does Alex. We need to be able to rely on them.

So, back to that first date. 

If you ask me about my brother, know that I’m watching how you respond. It’s not to be creepy or judgemental. It’s to make sure you’re worthy of him, of us.

Because to date me, you don’t have to love dogs. 

You must, however, love autism.

Written by, Hannah Schlueter

Hannah is a young adult whose only brother, Alex, is on the autism spectrum. Alex is one of her all-time favorite people and definitely her favorite sibling.

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Finding Cooper’s Voice is a safe, humorous, caring and honest place where you can celebrate the unique challenges of parenting a special needs child. Because you’re never alone in the struggles you face. And once you find your people, your allies, your village….all the challenges and struggles will seem just a little bit easier. Welcome to our journey. You can also follow us on Facebook, subscribe for exclusive videos, and subscribe to our newsletter.

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Finding Cooper's Voice is a safe, humorous, caring and honest place where you can celebrate the unique challenges of parenting a special needs child. Because you're never alone in the struggles you face. And once you find your people, your allies, your village....all the challenges and struggles will seem just a little bit easier. Welcome to my page!

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