Why This Birthday Invitation Matters

Autism first touched my life when my younger brother, Jack, was born in 1998. He was diagnosed at age 2; my parents were suspicious that something was different about him different because he wouldn’t make eye contact or respond to his name. When he was diagnosed, my family’s life changed, and we were put on a whole new path. Every day we learned something new, whether it was that Jack didn’t like certain foods or that noises would make him cry. Or learning that he had to bathe in his favourite pyjamas because he couldn’t understand he would be able to put them on again after.

As I was growing up with Jack, I was always accepting of his disability; it was completely normal, and it never worried me. We never went to the same school (there was no special education programs where I went) so he went to a school which was able to help him learn. At school I loved being with friends, playing and always enjoying myself, but my brother never got to have this experience. It was something always in the back of my mind. When we’d play at home, just sitting together moving around our toys or running around the house, it was just the two of us. We could never speak or communicate with each other like other siblings, but we understood each other in our own way. He was not only my special brother but my best friend.

young girl hugging her brother and sitting with blankets and stuffed animals

Whenever I was invited to a friend’s house or a party, it was hard for me because my brother was never invited, but my other friends’ siblings always would be. I understood the circumstances, but I never understood why they didn’t include Jack, and it would tear me apart inside.

But I will never forget the day my brother was invited to a birthday party. I was 9 years old, and I got a invitation to my friend’s birthday party. I hurried to open it, it read “To Courtney and Jack.” I smiled so much and was so grateful I couldn’t wait to get home and tell Mom. I jumped in the car and said “Mom, you’ll never guess who was invited to my friend’s birthday party with me!” Mom kept asking who and thinking it was one of my friends. She looked at me in the rearview mirror as I said, “Jack did, Mom! Jack gets to come to the party.” To this day, my mom says it was one of the happiest days she can remember.

To me, this was a milestone, someone actually saw my brother as a person — a person who matters, someone who counts. People may not know much about autism. But we all needed to learn, to be aware and share experiences, to help and support the people in our community. My brother will always be my best friend; and, to this day, I will never forget the first moment my best friend was included and noticed.

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