#WorldAutismAwarenessDay: Growing Up With A Brother With Autism
Contributed by Nikita Bakshi*
Pranav and I are like any other brother-sister duo. But, of course we have traversed a lot of spaces, situations and crises to be in the absolutely comfortable zone that we are in. He was two when he was diagnosed with autism. I was seven years old when my mother told me. Honestly though, when I look at him, autism isn’t the first thing that flashes before my eyes. Even as a kid, I treated him how I would treat a ‘‘neurotypical’’ child. I thought of him as an individual, a loving brother, and a son. I separated the autism from him early on.
Having said that, I will admit the process wasn’t as smooth. For example, till he was 12, he couldn’t tolerate rakhi on his arm because of sensory discomfort, and he would always start crying, and ask mom to cut it. It is devastating for a young kid and I did wonder - ‘Why is he doing this to me?’, ‘Does he hate me?’, ‘Does he hate rakhi?’ I remember I used to cry often, but then every night I would have this self-talk... tell myself how it was a sensory issue, that he can’t handle particular sounds, colours, sensations. Not to pat my own back but I do give myself credit. If anything, It made me extremely empathetic and patient.
Yes, initially, his tantrums at transitions, his hyperactivity, his sensory challenges and his aggressive episodes were stressful, but my initiation into the world of autism ensured that everything started to make sense. Everything Pranav and I did had to have a learning outcome for him. Till around four years of age, he was a hyperactive brat, and I had once asked mom why she had not taught him any manners.
It was so confusing initially. To explain her absence from my life, she would often say she is not there for me since she had to always work with him. She used to tell me soon he will be as well behaved as I was. Of course I have never seen a more well turned-out and amiable young man as him.
With Mom busy and Pranav not the usual sibling I had moments of feeling alone, anxious. At other times, it would break my heart when people stared at him outdoors like he was unwanted and “mental.”
Our 'play' was also so directed sometimes and so Pranav-centered because there was always a skill or a behaviour modification involved, but I soon picked up the ropes from Mom and became the second in command. Pranav's delightful flashback conversations and “confessions” are sometimes a repertoire of “naughty episode” he regales me with, with all the apologies and regrets expressed so sincerely.
Pranav has the ability to reflect on the challenges that he has outgrown, and that never ceases to amaze me. And it's so heartening to see this tantrum throwing little brat grow up to be a well turned out and handsome young man.
It’s only when mom and I talk that it occurs to me that I have missed a normal household and a normal sibling relationship. Maybe I adjusted automatically... but when I had to deal with his challenges, there was mindfulness about how it was his 'autism' and not him. I would always notice the way Mom taught him and spoke to him because I wanted him to feel a safe and loving space with me. Mom spoke to me a lot about how and why it was so and I accepted that gradually and we both became a team, Pranav's “crazy fans” as we liked to tell him! Pranav has influenced and coloured with his uniqueness every aspect of my life, even my career choice and we are a regular brother and sister pair who love each other and are there for each other always in our own special way. And I just love us the way we are!
By the time Pranav entered his teens, we told him about his autism as his 'superpower'. I had an established belief that it is, indeed, his superpower. What I have learnt is acceptance and unconditional love, and that his neurodiverse path will be different and yet so unique. I would never want our lives to be any other way.
Of course when you take all of this at a young age it affects you later. When I look back now, I realise I had debilitating anxiety. Truth be told, sometimes I also feel guilty for the loneliness I felt as a kid because growing up I realised Mum was doing this for me, as I would be his caretaker after her. I live in Sydney and in the middle of enjoying a beautiful beach, I have random bouts of worry - How is he doing? He must be feeling lonely, not having a social group? What if people are bullying him? and so on...
But for now, I look forward to traveling the world with him one day as he loves traveling (mostly staying at 5 star hotels), and photography.