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Adam is 18 years old and a senior in high school—he loves pizza, nature, pretty girls and video games. He despises mowing the lawn and prefers to spend much of his time in his bedroom playing on his iPhone. When in a bookstore, the manga section is his top priority. He talks about wanting to go college to become a zoologist. Some days this changes to veterinarian. Other days this changes to, “Maybe we should just open our own food truck.”

Sounds pretty typical, right?

If you ever met Adam, though, you wouldn’t think he was 18. His chubby cheeks, boyish grin, the look in his big brown eyes—and most of all, his personality and maturity level—would lead you to believe he was much younger.

Adam has Asperger’s syndrome. Autism Speaks defines Asperger’s syndrome as “an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) considered to be on the ‘high functioning’ end of the spectrum. The following behaviors are often associated with Asperger's syndrome: limited or inappropriate social interactions, ‘robotic’ or repetitive speech, challenges with nonverbal communication, tendency to discuss self rather than others, lack of eye contact, obsession with specific topics, awkward movements and mannerisms."

Having a little brother with autism hasn’t been easy, to say the least. Our family faces unique challenges every day. If the kitchen is filled to the brim with healthy foods but lacking frozen pizzas and pasta, Adam won’t eat. A trip to the local coffee shop can be exceedingly difficult if the line is too long and he’s feeling thirsty or flustered. His terrible tantrums—which lately have been so much better thanks to my parents’ endless love and guidance mixed with years of prayer and a good doctor—have been known to violently shake the house along with our last bits of patience. Whenever we’re entertaining company, Adam is guaranteed to charismatically plop a stack of his homemade animal and landscape sketches into the laps of guests to be admired and critiqued at length. Whenever he overhears anything about the female menstrual cycle he becomes utterly confused and full of questions. I think I’ve been explaining periods to him for the last three years. He recently came to New York to visit me for the weekend and I acted as his tour guide, showing him all the famous museums and landmarks. But his favorite part, undoubtedly, were the chubby and overly trusting squirrels he’d befriend in Central Park. 

Adam isn’t like most teenage boys. We have to cater to his special needs. And that’s okay.

Through Adam, we’re blessed with endless joy and laughter. We’ve learned more about life and love from his presence than many people learn in their entire lives. And there are so many reasons why I am thankful Adam is, well… the way he is.

Dear Autistic Brother,

It’s inspiring to see the enthusiasm you have for the world around us.

Once we were on our way home from your school. I was driving and you were in the passenger’s seat holding your big leather jacket and backpack, awkwardly, like you were holding big boulders or ginormous dinosaur eggs. You burst into mesmerized gasps, pointing out the window at something apparently very attention-worthy. My heart stuttered as I glanced over, half expecting to see an eighteen wheeler barreling toward us. But, no, you had spotted a family of deer in the passing meadow. 

“There’s four of them…no, five! Danniah, look how precious they are. Aren’t they amazing?”

In unexpected moments like those, I see the world anew, through your eyes. Through the vision of one possessing the inexplicable ability to see the magic of the world around us in each moment.

You will find a way to do what you want to do, no matter what, dammit.

You didn’t want to try the broccoli stuffed chicken we were pushing you to taste at dinner, so you didn’t. There was no way in hell even a fork full was getting anywhere near your mouth. When you meet a new person and you want to introduce yourself, you do. In fact, you talk their ear off, morphing into an overzealous, mildly embarrassing social butterfly. We always keep a watchful eye on you in such situations because at this point we know the uh-oh feeling doesn’t exist for you. Last summer you decided to run a 5k benefitting the cheetahs at the zoo, and you did it in pure Adam fashion—with little to no training prior to race day. You almost walked out of the house that morning without your running shoes, only wearing jean shorts. I guess you didn’t consider the fact that running more than 3 miles in denim and sandals isn’t ideal. We ran the race together and finished under the hot summer sun, promising to do it again the next year. Bravo, Adam. (Walking counts as running too, if you’re doing it for the cheetahs, right?)

You know what makes you happy. And you do what makes you happy. You’re ahead in that department—the rest of us are still trying to figure ourselves out.

Your childlike innocence reminds me of what is important in life.

Whenever we’re out in public and a dog passes us, we have a conversation about it. Doesn’t matter if the dog is ugly, handsome, large, small, dirty, old—we have a detailed conversation about how cute you find it and whether it’s name is more likely Midnight, Lassie, or George. The most ragged, revolting little mutt could appear and you would still think it’s adorable. You would still love it. Your love is blind and heart massive. Last year when I broke up with my boyfriend, you were one of the only people who could genuinely make me feel better. In a very grave voice and serious face you’d mutter, “Danniah, I want you to stay away from guys. I’m the only guy you should be hanging out with, okay?” Then you’d attack me with hugs and smiles. Once we were driving home in the evening, just the two of us. You looked up at the moon and said, “It’s a crescent moon! Hey, it kinda looks like a banana. Well, that’s the most beautiful banana I’ve ever seen, don’t cha think?”

Your humor and sweetness make me smile. I cherish these moments more than you will ever know.

I pray the world shows you nothing but kindness. I worry about you every day, hoping your classmates and the people you encounter treat you with dignity and respect. I hope they see how truly lovely you are. Because your soul is so pure and bright. You honor everyone around you because you always see the best in people—you don’t see flaws—you see fellow travelers in life.

I love you, Adam. I’m so happy I’m your big sister.

Love, Danniah

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Images via @danniahdaher

 

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