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My twin brother, Daniel, was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at the age of 2 years old. Autism is a disorder that affects brain functioning and communication. There are many types of autism; some cases are extremely severe, and others are mild, or anywhere in between. Daniel’s autism was very severe when he was younger, but he’s progressed through age, therapy, and school. He can now talk, sing, dance… you name it!

What has always been incredibly fascinating to me is that Daniel actually starting tackling his milestones regularly as a baby (even before me in some aspects, such as walking). A little down the road, though, probably when he was about 2 years old, my parents started noticing that something was astray about Daniel because he began just staring ahead or facing a wall if anyone tried speaking to him.

He also stopped responding to his name, so my parents were starting to think that he was hearing-impaired. He started watching the television with the captions on and would draw any logos that he saw perfectly. My family didn’t really know what autism was back then. My father had just seen a movie called Rain Man about a week prior to Daniel’s diagnosis, which portrays the life of a man living with autism. When the doctors confirmed the autism diagnosis, my parents felt confused, devastated, and hopeless. My father then remarked, “So this is, like, that Rain Man movie I saw about a week ago, right?”

My mother, on the other hand, just wanted to get books, join support groups, and become educated all about autism so that she could find out how to help my brother. One doctor even told my mother that Daniel would never be able to speak or show affection towards others; he would not have the capabilities to form relationships or say “I love you” to his family. This hit my family like a ton of bricks and it hurt.

Having a sibling with special needs has definitely been so busy, difficult, wonderful, hectic, and fulfilling all at the same time. I must say, as children, he got on my very last nerve. Growing up, I always just kind of knew that he was different. He couldn’t talk until around age 7, so whenever I tried to speak to him or show him something that I thought was cool, he wouldn’t answer back. He didn’t like to share his toys or the remote and he was always throwing tantrums. When he did this in public, it embarrassed me very much.

At times, I felt like I missed out on certain things, like seeing friends. My parents didn’t really trust babysitters alone with Daniel because people didn’t understand his disability like I did as his twin sister or like our other brother did (we have another brother named Scott who is older). It was also difficult having friends over because they couldn’t comprehend why Daniel behaved the way he did.

As I got older and started to try and understand why he did the things he did (probably around middle school), our relationship got a lot easier to handle. From there, I realized as his speech got better that he only liked to talk about the things that he was interested in. I really wanted to have a strong relationship with him, so I went out of my way to observe him and find out what he liked so that I could talk about it with him.

Since then, we’ve gotten so much closer. I still use that tactic with him to this day. During that time of observing him so much, I also realized that I wanted to have a career in some type of work where I got to interact with children just like him. He helped me realize my destiny and path, and I couldn’t be more thankful for that.

Now that Daniel and I are both adults, we enjoy each other’s company a lot more than we did when we were children. In my eyes, he has grown into such a unique and well-rounded individual. I moved away for college to a town that is about seven hours away from home, and Daniel appears to have been largely affected by this change. When I visit home, he is glued to my side and when we’re not together, he sends me many text messages throughout the day.

His speech is now exceptional and he’s working very diligently with maintaining eye contact with others and holding a conversation. He currently has a job coach that is trying to help him find employment opportunities. He practices mock job interviews with my parents and the coach. I’m constantly worrying about his future, though. I want him to be able to be productive and obtain independence while still being safe out there.

Last year, I became his legal back-up guardian, in the event of something happening to our parents. This was a huge step in both of our lives. This responsibility is an honor and I would have claimed it in a heartbeat, of course (which I did). However, the thought of handling all of his legal matters and basically having his life in my hands is something that I never thought  I’d have to deal with. It’s definitely a whole different perspective now, as adults.

All of Daniel’s little quirks, habits, and interests that once bothered me so much now have me absolutely adoring him to the moon and back. He enjoys playing on the playground, watching cartoons, swimming, drawing, playing on his iPad, and going on car rides with me. As I previously mentioned, he also loves to send me text messages every single day to chat (since he still feels most comfortable typing behind a screen, rather than verbal communication a lot of the time). We communicate through FaceTime occasionally, though, and that is always fun for us.

If he’s mad at me, he doesn’t tell me; he draws a picture of me and what I did to make him angry! He is an incredible artist and uses his work to express himself. Our relationship is so strong these days and it’s only getting stronger. He’s extremely funny; we have inside jokes together and faces that we make to each other.

The most rewarding part is that he always tells me that he loves me now.

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Originally published: March 30, 2015
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