Feb 28, 2013 6 Share

You Might Be an Autism Sibling If ...

Illustration of girl and boy made of puzzle pieces with hands outstretched.

This past week, I had the pleasure of interviewing two fellow adult siblings for a forthcoming AA16 feature. The three of us have different backgrounds, cultures, and stories, yet all of us seemed to speak a common language of love and experience. When we spoke about our younger brothers, there was an immediate connection. And so, with a hat tip to Ali Dyer of Autism Speaks (author of 25 Things About Growing Up with Autism: The Sibling Redux), I’d like to share with you a list of fourteen “tip-offs” that would indicate you might have a sibling on the spectrum. 

You Might Be an Autism Sibling If: 

  • Your knowledge of Disney movies far exceeds that of your peers. You can quote “Bambi” and “Dumbo” with the best of them. You may or may not know the names of all of the seven dwarves in sequential order in English and Italian. (Your family was once fortunate enough to stay in an Italian hotel containing statues of all seven dwarves. Your sibling was in heaven.) 
  • Even as an adult, you find yourself referencing said Disney movies and other cartoons on a daily basis. One minute you’re feeding your cat, and the next you’re walking around quoting “The Cat in the Hat” movie (“In English cat, hat; in French, chat, chapeau; in Spanish it’s el gato in a sombrero!”). 
  • You find the strangest sentences coming out of your mouth, but you mean them sincerely. When a friend asks after your family, you say, “Nobody has a black eye today. We’re great!” 
  • You are more likely than most to speak up when you hear someone throwing around hurtful terms like “retard” or “stupid.”
  • You know your childhood had challenges, but it also had unique joys. And you can’t imagine who you’d have been if you didn’t grow up with your specific sibling. (In fact, you don’t even want to try.) You know that (to paraphrase Anne Lamott in “Blue Shoe”), the price that you and your sibling have paid is exactly what it cost to become who you are. 
  • You are so proud of your sibling, just for being themselves. Who else do you know that would dare to ski straight down a mountain? Who else would believe that their restaurant meatballs were “still growing” because they had parsley on them? Who else would teach you what it means to communicate without words? 
  • You are exquisitely sensitive to the triggers that make your sibling uncomfortable or upset. When the sound is too loud, the tag is too itchy, the schedule just changed unexpectedly, and the environment is overwhelming, you are among the first to notice and respond accordingly.
  • You get so accustomed to the sight of adaptive equipment (such as noise-canceling headphones and weighted vests) that it actually takes you a minute to think and respond when someone asks, “What is that?” 
  • Babysitting isn’t as much of a challenge for you as it is for your peers. You can deal with a screaming baby and a poopy diaper; at home, you’ve dealt with much more than that. Your sibling has probably run away from home, danced naked in the front yard, and walked into the local duck pond with the police in pursuit … all in one afternoon. 
  • You always pack more than you think you’ll need when traveling. Years with your sib have taught you to bring extra food for sustenance, a change of clothes, and a great deal of flexibility along with you (because things are not going to go according to plan). 
  • You hear acronyms like IEP (or ISP), ASD, and/or PDD-NOS on a regular basis, and could explain them to others if necessary. 
  • Though you know they’re not perfect, your parents are your heroes. 
  • You’ve learned that staying present is the secret to staying sane. 
  • The one thing you know for sure? That nothing we do for love is wasted. 

Comment Options


Really enjoyed your article!

As a Mom of a 22-year old with autism, I found your article to be spot on and very entertaining.  He has no siblings, but my husband and I can relate to all that you wrote about!!  Even though he has no siblings, we as his parents experience the same things you do with your brother.  You have to have a sense of humor about all the Disney, cartoon, and book references that fly around the house all day long!!  It is actually quite amazing how much information can be retained by one individual.  We actually enjoy it and so do his aunts, uncles, and cousins which he has many of.  Our son keeps us all rolling with laughter and awe.You are a good sister to your brother, and I wish my son had a sibling just like you.  I have enjoyed reading your articles very much.  Can't wait to read more! 

Thank You

What a great comment - thank you for sharing this! I can tell that you relate to your son with love and wonder, and as you say, being able to laugh together as a family is a great gift.Thank you again for your affirmation - I'm so happy to hear that you like the columns! I'll keep 'em coming. :)


Great Post!

I couldn't have writtent his better myself! Im 22 and my brother on the autism spectrum is 7. Its nice to see posts like this because I love finding other people who know what im goint through. I recently started my own blog: cakeandmonkeys.wordpress.com,,, just so that i could connect with more people who can relate to my live. And what you said about the Disney songs are soo true lol. I have literally memorized every High School Musical song! Keep up the great work! -Ijeoma 

Thank You, Ijeoma

I appreciate your affirmation; thank you! So glad that the post spoke to your experience as a sib, and that you're sharing your story with others as well. Here's to Disney songs. :)


Thank you!

Thank you - as a parent of of three girls, one of whom is on the spectrum, I worry about my other two and how it has affected them growing up.  It's reassuring to be reminded of the positives. - G

You're Most Welcome!

So glad you enjoyed the post, and found it encouraging as well! That's wonderful to hear. And I think you'll love the forthcoming feature on the experience of having multiple sibs on the spectrum.