Quinn is 15 years old and the older brother of a child with autism and learning disabilities. He reflects on his experiences as a sibling of a neurodivergent child and gives advice to others navigating a similar situation.
Background: I'm 15, and I was born in San Francisco. And my brother was born in March 2011. I don't remember when the official diagnosis of his autism was, but I'm pretty sure it was around 2014. That was kind of like when we suspected it. And then sometime around then, he got officially diagnosed with other conditions such as ADHD.
What's your relationship like with your brother? Have his challenges with autism or ADHD affected your relationship?
I would say that I began to notice at an early age that my friend’s siblings didn’t act like my brother, but I never really grasped the idea that my brother was different for a while. I think that my relationship with him has made me more observant and aware of people’s differences and backgrounds. And our relationship is definitely very strong. I love him very much. But it's over the years, it's been very difficult because of how uncontrollable he can be. His anxiety is very spontaneous, and when he’s not experiencing that, he’s the sweetest little boy. But otherwise, he can be like a literal monster.
How have you reacted to those types of situations?
I usually react by going into my room. I spent a lot of time in my room, and it started during the pandemic. Throughout my whole life, I've been, I don't want to say, scared of him but hiding became my outlet when he would throw a tantrum. And it's become a thing now, where if he does something like that, I can ignore it by leaving the room and going somewhere else. There have been times when he has lashed out at me or my parents. There have been times when he’s endangered, me or himself. There have been countless times when he's damaged parts of the house. So I had to look for an outlet because it was hard to grow up with that tension in my house.
Is there anything that your parents have done to help support you as the sibling of a neurodivergent child?
My parents would help distance my brother from me when I needed it. And that's usually difficult to do because he gets really needy when he has anxiety and wants to be near me. But my parents tried to help to the best of their ability.
Have you taken on or felt more responsibility for your brother than other siblings do?
Yeah, I would definitely say that my responsibility is a lot greater, especially because my brother has gotten really into playing with like toys and stuffed animals to help with his anxiety. So, part of that is having someone play with him. When I was younger, it was certainly fun to have a little brother to play with, but now that I'm older, he still wants me to do it. He often acts much younger than his age. So, part of my responsibilities includes babysitting and playing with him, but it’s helpful when my parents hire a babysitter for the day.
How do you feel about having your brother around your friends?
Well, the friends that I’ve had for a long time know everything about my brother, and I'm totally cool with them. But I feel like some of my newer friends, I don't know how they would react to him. And I don't want them to think like think less of me because of how he acts or comment on his abilities. So I just refrain from talking about him around my friends because I want to protect him and don't feel comfortable talking about him around them.
How do you think your age has affected your experiences related to your brother?
Yeah, I have certain memories of being in the car, and he's just screaming and hitting. And I just remember being a little kid and wondering why he was doing that and what was wrong. And now that I've gotten older, I've learned so much about his condition through research and what my parents have told me about it. So throughout the years, I've become more understanding of his challenges. And we've had a subgroup called ABA, and it’s similar to a therapy group. And they come over and tell my parents and me what to do in certain situations. We've probably been doing this for the past four years now. So I think that is definitely one of the reasons why I've learned so much more about him as I’ve grown up.
Do you feel there are any other traits that you may have developed as a result of your experiences relative to your brother’s challenges?
As I said before, I feel that I am more observant of other people. I'm definitely a lot more patient as well, and I’m a good listener because I kind of have to deal with a lot.
Do you ever worry about your brother’s future?
Yeah, because his abilities are fairly low, although he seems really capable, at least now. I can see him going into a store on his own, but I don't think I can see him living by himself. And I wouldn't say that necessarily worries me because it's what's best for him. But I think that the thought of him not living with someone gives me some anxiety, but it will depend on how he develops.
Do you have any advice for other siblings who are learning how to navigate a similar situation?
My advice would be to not be afraid to talk to anyone about your feelings or experiences. Don't be afraid to bring it up. Don't, don't act like you shouldn't need to hide him because I've definitely had bad experiences when I tried to avoid talking about my brother’s challenges. I think that the sooner you embrace who your sibling is instead of trying to change it, the sooner it will get better.