“He’s My Brother Mom. My Big Brother”

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I have been living the autism parenting life for 12 years now.

We are in the middle. We made it through the wondering and worrying. Past the sting of the beginning.
I like to say we all settled into this secret world. Me. My husband. Cooper. And his siblings.
We don’t know anything different. And we couldn’t imagine Cooper being anything other than himself.

We don’t whisper autism. We share it. Loudly. Proudly. And with conviction.

He is Cooper.
Something happened though. Something I knew would come one day.
I knew because other parents have told me. Other siblings have told me too.
My second son, the one born into advocacy, is 10 years old. He is two years younger than his older brother.

He grew up autism adjacent.

He knows no other life.

But he is also a little boy. Who still wonders and worries. He gets angry sometimes. And he cries too. And there are so many parts that he doesn’t understand.

He’s asked me if he will be the older brother someday.
He’s asked me if God is still building his brother’s voice.
He’s asked me why Cooper. He’s asked me if autism will ever go away.
He’s asked me if he will ever be an uncle. And if Cooper will live with him someday.
Each question like a paper cut to my skin. Cutting me as a mom. Aching for the boy who once asked me if he could have autism too…so he could be just like Cooper.
I do my best to answer honestly. But I don’t always have the answers. Some questions are just too complicated.
Last week, it happened.

Bullying. Because of autism.

My sweet 10 year old broke down crying. He told me that a student at his school made fun of autism. Used the word as a slur. Teasing. Flapping his arms. Mocking. Making noises.
And saying…’look at me…I’m Sawyer’s brother. I have autism.’
A thousand paper cuts all over my body.

And then I watched my son turn angry. Angrier then I have ever seen before. The fierce protector coming out.

We talked for a long time, me and him.
About why. And how. And what.
We talked about right and wrong.
About feelings, big and small.
And about autism. And what it means to be a brother to Cooper.

We spoke about the invisible weight that he carries. One that he didn’t ask for.

I’ve watched him tie his older brother’s shoes. And wipe his mouth. Buckle his seatbelt. Hold his hand as he leads him though a parking lot.
Never forced. He just does these acts of kindness.
Because he loves him. The loyalty is fierce.
I will never know what it feels like to have an older sibling with a disability. That’s not my story to tell. I only know the story of the mom. The mom to two perfectly made boys who are figuring it all out.

‘He’s my brother mom. My big brother.’

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.
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Kate Swenson

Kate Swenson lives in Minnesota with her husband Jamie, and four children, Cooper, Sawyer, Harbor and Wynnie. Kate launched Finding Cooper's Voice from her couch while her now 11-year-old son Cooper was being diagnosed with autism. Back then it was a place to write. Today it is a living, thriving community of people who want to not only advocate for autism, but also make the world a better place for individuals with disabilities and their families. Her first book, Forever Boy, will be released, April 5, 2022.

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