Tsara Shelton

@tsara-shelton | contributor
Tsara Shelton is an avid writer of musings and an unapologetic story addict. As the proud mother of four mostly grown boys, she loves discovering and sharing her own beliefs so that she can comfortably expect her sons to do the same. And having grown up surrounded by autism, her beliefs have grown in fertile eye opening ground indeed! Tsara works tirelessly sharing the impressive international projects her mom (Lynette Louise aka THE BRAIN BROAD) works even more tirelessly creating, helping families and individuals with disabilities worldwide. www.tsarashelton.com www.brainbody.net
Tsara Shelton

Why I Consider Myself Lucky To Have Siblings With Autism

I’m no autism expert. Who I am is a sister, daughter and mom of autism, which makes me something of an autism student. Our home was uniquely balanced. There were eight kids — four girls and four boys. The four boys all have a range of disabilities. Us girls became mom’s right-hand ladies: babysitters, walkers-to-school, sharers-of-chores and all around brother-helpers. Yes, our home was uniquely balanced. It was also beautifully unique. Most of our neighbors never liked us for long. We challenged them to change, to open their minds. My mom never allowed my brothers to be treated as little disabled boys. She believed in them and treated them as boys who were uniquely challenged to learn skills. She knew those skills could be learned if the world would allow for unique answers. This, coupled with the different places my brothers landed on the spectrum, often looked wild and weird to outsiders. (Also, the neighbors weren’t fond of us teenage girls having noisy parties when mom worked. Oops!) So, siblings, hear me when I say, I get it. We’re put in a unique position, and we don’t always like it. We’re sometimes looked at with pity and distaste and expectations, and we don’t always like it. But please also hear me when I say, We’re the lucky ones. We’re put in a unique position. Helping my mom teach my brothers has made me a better person, a better daughter, a better sister and a better mom. I learned to see ability where others see none. I learned to follow clues and symptoms to find actionable answers. I learned to feel the love returned where others might fear it’s lacking. And now that we’re all fully grown, I have four fantastic friends in my brothers. Yes, they sometimes annoy me, as I’m sure I annoy them. Yes, they sometimes seem like work to me, as I’m sure I seem like work to them. We’re siblings. That’s what we do. Because of each other, we’re better, happier and more successful. Siblings have a unique opportunity to connect with someone who truly knows them and who truly loves them for who they are and who they’ve been. No matter who you are or who your sibling is, don’t let that opportunity slip away. You may not become best friends in the end, but you can always be best siblings. Trust me, it’s worth it. This post originally appeared on Autism Answers With Tsara Shelton. Want to end the stigma around disability? Like us on Facebook . And sign up for what we hope will be your favorite thing to read at night .

Tsara Shelton

Son Explains to Mom How His Anxiety Is Like a Werewolf

Walking into the high school with my 18-year-old son (on our way to watch my 16-year-old son perform), he stopped suddenly and squished my cheek. (Squishing cheeks is his most frequent sensory stim. He tells me my cheeks are soft. I believe him because, well, he’s a cheek expert!) “I think I figured out why I love werewolves so much.” “Um… OK.” We started walking again, heading with the crowd toward the ticket sale line, and he explained. “As soon as we started walking toward the school I could feel my anxiety rise; my body felt nervous and fuzzy. Then when we walked in I felt a shift, a change, and I even noticed my body move like in the movies when people change forms, become the wolf. My anxiety has always been like that. I feel it coming, and then I feel myself change no matter how hard I try not to. I can’t control it.” I stared at him for a minute. As he explained his theory, I watched his body move subtly like werewolves in movies. It was fascinating — i nsightful, enlightening and useful. “Wow, that makes so much sense! Do you feel the anxiety now?” “Oh, yes. Always at this school.” He turned at looked straight into my eyes. “ Always at this school.” By now we had made it to the front of the line. I purchased our tickets, exchanged a few excited words about the upcoming show with the mom volunteer, and then we headed into the theater. “Well, I’ll tell your brother how much his show meant to you. That you were willing to risk staying in your werewolf form for him. But if you need to leave at any point just tell me. For now, you can control the anxiety — or ‘the wolf’ — by choosing your environment.” “Thanks, Mom.” He looked relaxed. He held my hand. We enjoyed the show. Follow this journey on Tsara’s blog. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Image via Thinkstock

Tsara Shelton

Mom Responds to Strangers Staring at Teenage Son With Autism

Hello there, stranger. Sometimes. I see you staring at my son as he towers over me and squishes my cheeks over and over while I browse the organic produce. I see you wondering why I allow him to kiss me on the lips in public, and I feel your judgment when I don’t reprimand him for wearing the attitude that the two of you are equals, rather than him a 16-year-old boy and you an adult. I see it, and I feel it, and I res pond in my own way. If it feels appropriate, I’ll explain my reasons. If you ask outright about us I’m more than happy to tell you. I love to share and discover reasons! And if my son begins to squirm from the weight of your misinformation or judgment or misunderstanding or difference of opinion, I’ll explain to him. Maybe loud enough for you to hear if I feel that will help. You see, I learned early that allowing my loved ones to be themselves is more important than teaching them to be who you expect. My brothers were all on the autism spectrum, and if my mom taught me or them to act only as expected then we may have all died of self-loathing by now. Instead she taught us to explore our interests and passions and to do so with such comfort that we are able to share who we are with those who may be curious. She taught us to be so comfortable with any strangeness that is truly us that we can’t help but want you to be comfortable, too. Rather than feel compelled to shove our difference in your face with anger or “I dare you to say something” attitude, we live and love and are ourselves comfortably. I’ll admit I learned the value of fitting in and learning to care about the expectations of others a little bit later–and it’s true there is value there, too. With a willingness to hear the views of the many and to consider the comfort of the masses I have been able to teach my loved ones to keep an open mind and a flexible nature. Also, we’ve discovered tips and tricks for sharing our own passions more clearly and to a bigger audience. That is a lovely thing! So, I learned caring about discovering my unique self and encouraging those I love to discover their unique selves, first. Later I learned to care also about your unique needs and ideas. The two go well together, most of the time. And when I struggle to see how the pieces fit – our unique selves and your unique needs and ideas– I’ll always choose accepting myself and my loved ones first, over worrying about you. Not only because myself and my loved ones are more my responsibility, but because I am unable to guess correctly the expectations of you, a kindly stranger staring as my son purses his lips and makes animal sounds in the produce section. Also, I believe you have the ability to help yourself and need less from me than my loved ones do. I see you staring as my son towers over me and squishes my cheeks, and I respond in my own way. I hope you’re open to my style of communication and are truly curious rather than assumptive. Communication – every kind of communication–is understood best that way. I learned exploring unique and personal passions first, and finding how they fit with society later. Want to know a secret? I think, honestly, that’s the best order.

Tsara Shelton

Understanding My Autistic Family Members

So you’ve started dating a girl with autism? So you just found out your son is on the autism spectrum? So you learned all of those times you felt stranded in a world that doesn’t make sense had to do with your “not-so-typical” brain? You’re lucky you ran into me! My mom, my brothers, some of my sons and a few of my friends all landed in various places on this broad spectrum. You are lucky. I’m guessing you know this, but I want to reiterate it anyway. I, myself, took too long to understand it. The world needs us to have the kinds of conversations that are encouraged by the challenges of autism. I don’t mean to glorify or belittle or romanticize the challenges; they are real and they are hard. But almost all of them are the result of a society that is uncomfortable with “chaos” and “inconvenience.” Only a few of them are actually because of autism itself. Sadly, I didn’t know this. I assumed my mom and my brothers were asking toomuch of themselves and the world, and that the world (when telling themto stop being themselves) must be right. After all, there is so much more of the world than us! How could it be wrong? But I had children, and they stimmed, pulled away from certain types of touch, remained nonverbal for a long time. By the time I was a mom, my brothers had already proven the ever-doubtingworld and me wrong, time and time again. My mom had patiently showed me, taught me, believed in me until I learned to know in what ways I was wrong. By the time I was a mom I was ready to step up and explain things to the world. I started by admitting my own cruelties. That was sometimes hard but always easier than justifying and defending them. Then, I asked the people I love what was going on in their minds and — this is key — I believed them. When my mom and brothers used to try to tell me about their experiences, I mostly entertained them with nods and pats on the head. Secretly I thought they were being dramatic, not trying hard enough or just plain not smart enough to make sense. I could give you specific examples (I have many!) but suffice it to say, I was “nice” on the surface and saw them as “other” on the inside. But my sons? I couldn’t do it. I had to believe in them and be interested in them and truly listen when they told me things. Whether they communicated by moving away or toward things, or eventually with words. Because the world looks, smells, feels and tastes different to everyone, and especially for our autistic loved ones, it’s important to trust them to tell us how they feel, what they see, who they are, what they think. It can be hard to understand (my one brother used to complain about all the “poo flakes” flying at him when I asked about his flinching, and my other brother doesn’t have much language so I’ve learned to listen to his energy and motions), but it’s more than worth it. We all become better people when we learn to do this everywhere in our lives. Because of my brothers, and especially because of my mom (who adopted my wonderful brothers despite everyone telling her they were unlovable), my life is better and my eyes are open in beautiful ways. I’m kinder, smarter and busier sharing wonderful things instead of hiding away from possibilities. I’ve learned to listen when people take the time to share their experiences, and to believe them. Sounds simple and obvious, right? Yet pay attention. Most of us assume we know what other people should feel, we challenge their experiences by telling them, “That’s not right, that’s not what it is.” We do this easily and consistently, and it’s dangerous and sad. So you’re lucky you ran into me! Take a deep breath, and when the world looks at you or your son or your girlfriend or the neighbor girl with judgments, anger or pity, try to respond with a kindness and a teaching. Not always, but when you can. I’ve learned to do this (for the most part), and it’s been enlightening! Often people shift when I’m willing to smile and offer a kindness. And when they don’t, I go ahead and give them the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they thought about it later and will be less judgmental next time. Goodness knows I’ve gone home and thought about things only to grow kinder for the next person! The weight of the world is not on your shoulders entirely, new friend, so don’t feel obligated to always take the time to teach or encourage a thoughtful reaction, but you have been gifted with a unique opportunity. Take advantage of it in creative and comfortable ways! You’re new to autism, which means you’ll be interested and curious to learn from others. That’s great! Please know: The professionals will try to be helpful, but listen first to your autistic loved one. The professionals are lovely but not always right. And when they are right, when they do believe in unlimited possibilities and putting the goals and motivators of the autistic individual first, when they do prove their ideas and actions are effective and kind, hold onto them and learn with them. Those gems of support are your best bling. While you’re here and we’re chit chatting, I want badly to tell you about all the things my mom does that can help. I want to tell you about my book that is a collection of stories starring parenting and autism. I want to tell you to hire my mom, watch her shows, read her books. And here’s the thing: So many of us are going to tell you that. You will meet so many wonderful well meaning people with the perfect book, the perfect therapy, the perfect vitamin, the perfect-whatever. I suggest you listen to them because they have experience, and you don’t need to figure it all out alone. But always, always, always take time away from their opinions to think about how it resonates for you and your family. Your beliefs. Your girlfriend. Your son. Your neighbor. And also, friend, take the time to consider what beliefs or motivators you might have that are, in your own way, hurting your chances for a valuable and successful experience. It will surprise you sometimes. We are creatures of our environment, and the environment is imperfect. That’s OK, because we are also creatures of power, and you can make changes. Invest in your happiness and agency. My brothers are now my friends. My sons are my treasures. My mom is my mentor and kindred spirit. My life is diverse and unpredictable and filled with magic and miracles! Because of my struggles with society and self, I’m able to share these learnings with you and hopefully save you some hardship. I’m able to explore my mistakes and see they are indeed valuable. I see that it’s also me who’s lucky. I’m lucky I ran into you. Thank you, friend, for exploring our luck with me. The Mighty is asking the following: What is the best advice your mom gave you while growing up with a disease, disability or mental illness? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to community@themighty.com. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Tsara Shelton

To the Woman Who Taught Me About Being a Special Needs Mom

Dear Mom, I tell you all the time how much I appreciate you. I do what I can to show you that gratitude as often as possible, yet I always wish I could do more. You are the one whose guidance and love taught me to love myself the way I so comfortably do, and that is not a small thing. It wasn’t quick and easy for you, either. As a mom myself, now I know that. When you adopted our brothers, all of them with special needs and big, sounding diagnoses for their itty bitty bodies, and loved them until they learned to love themselves, you were guiding me. When you fought for legal custody of our two sisters who came from abuse, abuse that was sadly familiar to you and a cycle you insisted on breaking, and you loved them until they learned to love themselves, you were showing me. While all eight of us were loved equally, without ever knowing how hard it was for you, you were teaching me. Now, as the mom of four fantastic sons myself, I see how easily these lessons prove themselves in my own parenting. When my boys come to me comfortably with questions, when they ask for snuggles knowing I’m happy to give them, I feel a masterful mix of me and you in my parenting. When I’m smiling to myself because of some fancy-dancy parenting maneuver I’ve managed to pull off, I’m also smiling at you. And there have been plenty of fancy-dancy parenting maneuvers! When my son, Shay, wasn’t talking by age 4, when he was stimming and toe walking and insisting on forever being naked, you showed me the way to teach skills while embracing his uniqueness. You took sign language courses and brought home a fun new way of talking, taking advantage of engaging hand gestures placed near your mouth. He began to talk. I took the baton and ran with it, and taking your cue for creative posturing, I discovered fun ways to help him want to keep his clothes on. When my son, Declyn, showed obvious signs of sensory challenges and a fear of eye contact, I hardly needed you to show me what to do, though I love that we did those things together. As a family we encouraged eye contact creatively, discovered ways to help him keep his food down (mostly!), visited playgrounds intentionally over and over — not pushing him to become socially comfortable but believing he could and celebrating each step of the way — until he became Mr. Comfortable. Because you have not only helped my brothers in these areas but also hundreds of others around the world, my sons and I knew we were in good hands. It was a simple question of enjoying the work. So thank you again, Mom. Please know that even when I’m not expressing my gratitude for everything you do, I’m building upon it. I love you, Mom. You are my teacher, my friend, and even sometimes my student. Or so you tell me. Which I know is also a way of teaching me to be a student to my own children. I’m forever grateful you never let us see that we were difficult. Life always felt fun while we felt supported. Which helped me do the same organically for my own sons. This cycle of love is far superior to the cycle of abuse you were burdened to change. Thank you for changing it. Your dedicated and loving daughter, Tsara The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to someone special in your life. What do you wish he or she knew? How has he or she made a difference? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to community@themighty.com. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Tsara Shelton

When My Son's Friends Asked What's 'Wrong' With His Uncle With Autism

Just over ten years ago we were visiting a family resort. My mom and I had gathered and corralled all four of my sons, along with my brother, to the resort swimming pool. With an ease we’ve mastered over time, Mom and I chatted while consistently counting heads, tossing playful banter at the boys and redirecting moods that could easily become meltdowns. My brother Dar, who was about 21 at the time, loves water. He screams, he splashes, he sucks water in and spits it out, he jumps around and screams again. My oldest son, who was about 10 years old at the time, loves making new friends. He invents creative games and gives random kids a role, he invites them to sleep over and builds blanket forts with two stories and a dance room, then makes more friends to play more roles. On this particular visit my brother was wildly happy. The acoustics at the indoor pool were his play thing, and he made strange sounds with wild abandon. While my oldest son swam nearby with new-found friends, Dar happily cleared out the hot tub. Eventually, one of the kids my son was playing with asked with intense curiosity, pointing at my brother, “What’s wrong with him?” My darling son look over at his uncle and shrugged. “Dunno,” was his bored response, “maybe he’s hungry.” And off they swam, question answered! It’s not the questions we are asked about our autistic loved ones that matter most, but the way we answer them. My son’s disinterest in — and misunderstanding of — the “what’s wrong with him question” was a subtle message to the new friends. Subtle, but clear. Nothing was wrong with him. And nothing was so different about him that couldn’t be understood by the rest of us. Perhaps he’s hungry, perhaps he’s hurting, perhaps he has to use the restroom, perhaps he’s obnoxiously noisy and comfortable with his joy — all of these things are possibilities — p eople possibilities we can all relate to on some level. Some of my son’s friends have tried to get to know his uncle more deeply, to help him with his possible pain and to join him in his joy. It’s been beautiful to watch. And on that day his new friends were comfortable with the “hungry” answer, swam away and didn’t look back. They were busy playing and my brother was busy playing, too. It was beautiful to watch. Dar swimming Follow this journey on Autism Answers With Tsara Shelton.

Tsara Shelton

I Used to Apologize for Our Special Needs Family in Public. Now I Do This.

Growing up with a socially different mom had its challenges, and most of them were made up in my head. When all eight of us kids were small and growing up with a single mom struggling financially, you’d imagine going out for meals would be an almost-never experience. And yet, because my mom knows the value of learning social skills and loves teaching in real world environments, and because eating has to be done anyway, going out happened most months. Learning social skills was a pretty big deal in our house! My mom adopted six of her eight kids, and five of my six adopted siblings had various special needs. Fetal alcohol syndrome, autism, Irlen syndrome, Tourette’s — the list of words we learned while growing up with my adopted brothers is almost endless. Of course, because my mom herself grew up with similar words thrown at her, she never saw words when looking at us kids. She saw people. People in the restaurants we visited didn’t usually follow in her footsteps. To them we were messy, loud, rude and scary. And for too many years, I was on their team. I liked eating in restaurants because it meant not having the chore of doing dishes. But I found myself always apologizing for my family, especially my brothers. And I found myself wishing my mom wouldn’t be so rude or expect the world to be accepting in ways it obviously couldn’t be. My brother might steal a french fry from a neighboring plate and my other brother might climb the table or put his lips on your fork, and my mom would look at both patrons and staff with a curt smile and expect them to be OK with it. Believing that as the strangers watched her explain to my jumping, stimming, squealing brothers why they couldn’t steal or lick people’s forks, they’d see she was dealing with it and it would be water under the bridge. And almost always at some point during the meal she’d let everyone know it was too cold in the restaurant and she had to go now. That we needed doggy bags and the bill now. My mom had sensory issues and synesthesia, and she assumed the world dealt with similar issues. She had an overflowing basket of children and love, and she expected the world to understand, or at least try to. But I mumbled apologies and I begged Mom to do the same. I gave waiters and cashiers apologetic glances and looked at my own family with troubled eyes that saw mess and inconvenience. Why did I care so much about the strangers? Why did I care so much that I would apologize in front of my brothers, hinting to them that they were a problem we were carrying around? Because despite my mom teaching me otherwise, I let the staring and fear of strangers speak louder than love, that’s why. But it’s also true that my mom’s socially different ways didn’t let her put artificial politeness ahead of people. Especially not her people. Going out to restaurants with my family was about teaching my brothers, my sisters and I social skills. It was not supposed to be about apologizing for our challenges. While I apologized, Mom taught. While I felt embarrassed, Mom felt encouraged by little lessons learned. But Mom wasn’t just patient with my brothers, she was also patient with me; she was teaching me. And over time, I too learned to teach and celebrate rather than apologize. I began to see all of us through the eyes of Mom, eyes that saw us all as beautifully capable. Going out to eat with my family now is still noisy, but it’s inclusive. We are friendly and largely appreciated by patrons and staff. We are certainly strange, but kind. And we are unlikely to apologize. My mom was socially different and rarely saw what we would want to apologize for. I’ve finally been gifted with that social difference, too. Follow this journey on Autism Answers With Tsara Shelton. The Mighty is asking the following: “Staring” is a topic that comes up so much in our community. Tell us about one unforgettable “staring” experience you or someone you love had that’s related to disability, disease or illness. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to community@themighty.com. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Tsara Shelton

When My Son Said, "Look at Those Guys, Mommy. They Are So Black!'

My four tiny boys and I had just arrived at McDonald’s. While waiting for our food, my then 4-year-old noticed two colorfully dressed, dark skinned men sitting at a nearby table. They were enjoying a conversation in a language we couldn’t understand, while sipping their Cokes and munching their French fries. My son openly stared and smiled. As our family headed toward the playroom with drinks in hand, he peered up at me and spoke with wonder. “Look at those guys, Mommy. They are so black!” They were, and so I comfortably agreed. I was beaming with pride because my son had spent the first four years of his life stimming and not talking. His words were new, and my heart still danced when I heard them. Moments later I was confronted by an unhappy black woman. “I heard what you said to your son,” she informed me, a hand on her hip and disapproval in her stance. After a moment of confusion, I understood her concern. She went on. “They are clearly visiting our country and should not be exposed to those ignorant comments.” I wondered if she’d even noticed my colorful brood. My two oldest boys have dark brown skin, the 4-year-old is white like me and my youngest is a coffee and cream color (his dad, my husband, is quite black). In attempting to tell this woman my reason for not reprimanding my son for his politically incorrect comment, I was given an opportunity to voice an opinion I’d not yet clearly formed. Those two men were black. My 4-year-old had not lied. And he hadn’t judged them based on their skin color or fascinating and beautiful outfits. Rather, he’d been interested and impassioned to voice his excitement. If I’d asked him to be quiet or worse, not observe and engage with the world around him at all, I would have been in danger of frightening and confusing his natural curiosity, his thrill in enjoying the world. My adorable 4-year-old, who was slow to learn language to begin with, would have heard me bash his newly formed words and his desire to share them. Also, shushing him would be suggesting that maybe there is something wrong with their dark skin. The woman didn’t exactly agree with me, but she also didn’t argue. She smiled at my boys and admitted that she wanted to think about what I’d said. The men visiting our country are not my responsibility. The diners at the restaurant and their opinions on how my kids should behave are not my responsibility. Teaching my children to engage in the world and discover their passions is. It’s a job I don’t always do well, but I try to do it authentically. If I could find that woman today, I would thank her with all my heart. By being willing to voice her concern, she challenged me to discover my own. And as is so often the case, through parenting, I came to understand what is — to me — an important truth. Understanding and accepting our responsibilities — not fearing a truth for the difficulties it may bring or what others may perceive it to mean — and being willing to speak out when you feel others may benefit from what you have to say (as that woman did on that day) are what it takes to be an active parent.  My mom  taught me that. It’s also a successful recipe for being a passionate and engaged citizen. For my boys and the world they will inherit, I insist on being both. Follow this journey on Autism Answers By Tsara Shelton. Want to end the stigma around disability? Like us on Facebook . And sign up for what we hope will be your favorite thing to read at night .

Tsara Shelton

Autism: To the Woman in the 99 Cents Store Who My Adult Brother Scared

My brother, Dar, is a handsome and huge 33-year-old man with autism. A couple of years ago, he and I were in the 99 Cent Store shopping for groceries and happily hurrying so we could go pick my boys up from school. Suddenly, my brother made a dash toward the dairy section. Standing next to the milk and butter he clapped his hands loudly, jumped up and down and screamed for joy. I giggled and asked him to please celebrate a little bit quieter. Then I noticed the old woman standing just behind me. She had her hand on her heart and her face was pale and ashen looking. “Are you OK?” I asked her, feeling concerned. “Yes,” she answered with a crooked half-smile, “your friend almost gave me a heart attack.” I apologized for my brother’s surprising behavior while my brother smiled at her and showed her the butter in his hand. She was already looking healthier as she smiled at Dar. “It’s fine. But I really did almost have a heart attack. I’ve just gotten out of the hospital for heart problems!” She gave a little giggle and continued with her shopping, as we continued with ours. That is a very strong memory of mine. The woman had been kind — and she could have died! Yet she seemed to believe that neither her quality of life nor my brother’s, was more important than the other. We should all do our best to be considerate of the world around us. All of us. It’s not just up to the world to be considerate of my brother, and it’s not only up to my brother to be considerate of the world. My brother is learning, and he is challenging others to do the same. Thank-you so much to the lady at the 99 Cent Store. We remember you often, and I’m so glad you did not have a heart attack that day. This post originally appeared on Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton. The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment a stranger — or someone you don’t know very well — showed you or a loved one incredible love. No gesture is too small! If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to community@themighty.com. Please  include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

Tsara Shelton

Why I Consider Myself Lucky To Have Siblings With Autism

I’m no autism expert. Who I am is a sister, daughter and mom of autism, which makes me something of an autism student. Our home was uniquely balanced. There were eight kids — four girls and four boys. The four boys all have a range of disabilities. Us girls became mom’s right-hand ladies: babysitters, walkers-to-school, sharers-of-chores and all around brother-helpers. Yes, our home was uniquely balanced. It was also beautifully unique. Most of our neighbors never liked us for long. We challenged them to change, to open their minds. My mom never allowed my brothers to be treated as little disabled boys. She believed in them and treated them as boys who were uniquely challenged to learn skills. She knew those skills could be learned if the world would allow for unique answers. This, coupled with the different places my brothers landed on the spectrum, often looked wild and weird to outsiders. (Also, the neighbors weren’t fond of us teenage girls having noisy parties when mom worked. Oops!) So, siblings, hear me when I say, I get it. We’re put in a unique position, and we don’t always like it. We’re sometimes looked at with pity and distaste and expectations, and we don’t always like it. But please also hear me when I say, We’re the lucky ones. We’re put in a unique position. Helping my mom teach my brothers has made me a better person, a better daughter, a better sister and a better mom. I learned to see ability where others see none. I learned to follow clues and symptoms to find actionable answers. I learned to feel the love returned where others might fear it’s lacking. And now that we’re all fully grown, I have four fantastic friends in my brothers. Yes, they sometimes annoy me, as I’m sure I annoy them. Yes, they sometimes seem like work to me, as I’m sure I seem like work to them. We’re siblings. That’s what we do. Because of each other, we’re better, happier and more successful. Siblings have a unique opportunity to connect with someone who truly knows them and who truly loves them for who they are and who they’ve been. No matter who you are or who your sibling is, don’t let that opportunity slip away. You may not become best friends in the end, but you can always be best siblings. Trust me, it’s worth it. This post originally appeared on Autism Answers With Tsara Shelton. Want to end the stigma around disability? Like us on Facebook . And sign up for what we hope will be your favorite thing to read at night .