What it's really like growing up with an autistic sibling

What it's really like growing up with an autistic sibling
What it's really like growing up with an autistic sibling Photo: Rose Robbins

My brother was diagnosed with autism at two-and-a-half. He is now coming up to 24. 

As a child, I was obsessed with the fact that my brother did not speak, and anxiously awaited the day he would talk to me. 

My brother never went to mainstream or even special-educational-needs exclusive school. He was educated at home on a program with a team of personal assistants. 

Photo: Rose Robbins today (Supplied)
Photo: Rose Robbins today (Supplied) 

Every few weeks they would have a team meeting in our living room, and I would sit in if I felt like it (usually in my pyjamas). 

The most memorable part of the meetings was when the PA's would share their "magic moments", which were usually examples of sharing a connection of some sort with my brother. 

I would be invited to participate, but I usually couldn't bring any specific examples to mind, which I of course found quite frustrating. 

Looking back on it though, I can understand why I found this so hard at the time. I was quite jealous of my brother for getting so much attention, not just from my parents but from a band of complete strangers. What about magic moments with Rose? 

And I found it really hard when my brother's carers seemed to have much better rapport with him than I ever had - surely as his sister I should be able to bond with him more easily! 

As I have learnt over the years, this is not always the case.

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Being a child with a disabled sibling is not easy, and many siblings will go on to experience anxiety in adulthood.

As one of these adults, I cannot put the blame solely on my brother's condition. Siblings often get sidelined by services, and can feel less cared for than their disabled siblings who have more complex needs. It is very difficult for parents to meet the needs of all their children when they are so different.

Parents may also feel that the non-disabled sibling does not do enough to educate themselves about their disabled sibling, when in fact their child may be struggling to understand but too embarrassed to admit it. It's important for parents to try to see the situation from their non-disabled or non-autistic child's perspective. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Rose Robbins Illustration (@roserobbinsillustration) on

I can now recall lots of "magic moments" with my brother: Listening to music in his room and dancing as he laughs. Eating fried breakfasts at the cafe. Walking and giggling through the woods, ripping the leaves off the bracken. 

I also didn't realise that there were other ways that we could be interacting (through symbols, signs and other forms of speech) like I do now.

One thing my brother and I have in common is that we both love picture books, even now that we are in our twenties! Although I suppose neither of us chew them as much as we used to. 

While my brother is still an avid appreciator of books, I have started to make my own.

I have always written stories that have some version of our story hidden in them, but with 'Me and My Sister' I decided to write a book that dealt directly with having a sibling with autism.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Rose Robbins Illustration (@roserobbinsillustration) on

What I hope to do with my book is to open up conversations within families and encourage empathy.

I hope it might resonate with children who have a disabled sibling, and inspire understanding in those who don't share that experience. I hope that brothers and sisters can read it together, and that it will bring families closer.

At the end of the book, the message reads "we love each other just the same". This is message to young siblings, that the sibling connection is true even if it is expressed in a "different" or "unusual" way.

Your sister may not be able to make eye contact with you, but that doesn't mean she loves you any less.

Rose Robbins grew up with an autistic brother, and works with autistic children. Her beautiful new picture book 'Me and My Sister' is out now through Allen & Unwin, RRP $24.99.