Double Diagnosis: What it is like having Autism and having a Sibling with Autism
This is a photo of my brothers and I from Thanksgiving 2014. Gabriel, in the middle, and I both have autism. Noah, on the left, does not. I was diagnosed in October 2004, at the age of eight. Gabriel, four years younger than me, was diagnosed just prior to this. It has been an interesting experience having a brother who is also on the spectrum.
While we are very different, over the course of our lives, our relationship has changed numerous times. And we are finally, at the ages of 20 and almost 16, becoming close.
Named for an Angel
Gabriel was born on October 18, 2000, at Huron Valley Hospital in Commerce, Michigan. My initial reaction to gaining a second sibling was typical for a four-year-old… my logic was I already had a brother, so why would I want another one? But, over time, Gabriel began to grow on me.
I will never forget one night when he was about nine months old. For my fifth birthday, my parents had bought me brand new pajamas. I think they were designed with some Disney character. I was in my bedroom, with my mom and Gabriel. Somehow, I made him laugh so hard that he vomited all over me. I was five, so I got angry. But by the next day I forgave him.
I also remember having a CD I would ask my parents to play in the car, which featured some typical early 2000’s pop group, singing their version of Elvis’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love”. I remember singing over it to Gabriel. Because, for the first few years of his life, he was my world.
Things changed when I was eight. After participating in a study at Detroit Children’s Hospital at the insistence of my therapist, a psychiatrist concluded I had Asperger’s Syndrome. This came soon after Gabriel had been diagnosed.
I almost immediately resented having autism, and because Gabriel had been diagnosed first, for whatever reason, I saw it as his fault, somehow. What can I say, I was a kid. It took me until my senior year of high school to accept that part of him and myself.
As we grew up, after my parents divorced, my dad moved out and I was bar mitzvahed, I saw it as my job to help alleviate how autism was affecting him. I would lash out whenever I thought he was acting ‘odd’, as defined by some part of my mind.
For a very long time, I actually disliked my own brother. I think it was due to the fact that, as the years went by, I saw in him behaviors I had exhibited at that age, and because I wanted to forget my past, I didn’t want him to go down the same road I had. So I was, frankly, horrible to him for most of his life.
At some point I realized that I did not want to spend my adult life having my little brother, whom, once, I had adored, hating me for how I treated him as a child. It was already starting to happen. I regretted all the time I spent taking out my own personal frustrations on him.
Acceptance came when I turned 18. As I began to find myself, I could accept all of who I was, and with that, I could accept Gabriel. Acceptance, however, does not always bring peace. After my freshman year of college, when I came home and Gabriel was completing middle school, I finally made peace with him. He’s my little brother, and nothing can change that.
With both my brothers, I have found that as we change with each passing year, our dynamic as brothers changes as well. I’m on the edge of my second decade, Noah is about to be a sophomore in college and Gabriel will be 16 in five months. We’re older, but not necessarily wiser. The three of us are still learning about who we are, and what we want in life. But I think that we’re learning together.