When I was about 7 years old, my parents told me that my younger brother, Tee Ray, is special. As a child, I did not fully understand what autistic means. It has taken me over two decades to learn what that word means, and every day I am still discovering new things about my brother as a person with autism.
Growing up with a sibling who is autistic has its own unique set of challenges and “sacrifices”. Tee Ray went through a violent phase during his teenage years, he also had fits, yet my parents took it all in their stride and never blamed him. My grandfather really doted on Tee Ray when he was alive. Even when Tee Ray hit him, he would say “it’s okay, doesn’t hurt, Tee Ray doesn’t mean it”.
Family outings and holidays have always been challenging, and at times, impossible. Tee Ray is a creature of habit, a common characteristic of people with ASD. He prefers watching his shows on the tablet during his free time and he likes Chinese food. I, on the other hand, like to try different cuisines but when I am with him, I know that we have to stick to Chinese food. He has been trying to grow his palette though. Recently, we let him try Unagi Don and he took an immediate liking to it! So, baby steps for now.
Over the years, I have developed a natural filter for people with whom I can share about my brother’s condition. I cannot stand the thought of my brother being judged, so I am very selective with friends I bring home. I guess it is my natural protective sisterly instincts kicking in.
When my grandfather passed away in 2021, Tee Ray had one less person in this world who loved him. I vowed to myself then that I will make the effort to be a better sister to him. A few months ago, I started volunteering at SAAC’s Day Activity Centre, where Tee Ray currently goes to. Witnessing how his coaches interact with him has helped me greatly in understanding him. For example, how we can better handle his sensory challenges and how to get him to communicate with longer sentences at home. The whole volunteering experience has been eye-opening for me as I get to understand what the word spectrum means. .
Contemplating the future:
My parents have never pressured me to take care of my brother. They have told me that when they pass on, Tee Ray can be placed in a home but the idea of it just does not sit well with me. I do not want to put him under the care of someone else. I would still want to be able to take care of him. On the other hand, I need to be realistic about whether or not I can find a partner who would be able to accept him. If I cannnot find someone who can accept Tee Ray, I might just decide to stay single.
Cherishing moments together:
Even though I cannot deny the challenges that come with having a loved one who is on the autism spectrum, they make every good moment that much more special. Recently, he learnt the art of negotiation! Each morning when my dad goes to wake him up for school, he would say “5 minutes!” Dad will try to wake him up again after 5 minutes and again Tee Ray would say, “5 minutes!” This would go on a few times and then Tee Ray would go, “1 minute!” Dad would give a mini sigh before giving in to him once again. Hearing this banter never fails to put a smile on my face.
Sometimes I do wonder what our relationship would be like if Tee Ray was not autistic. I imagine the conversations we would have about anything under the sun and the many life experiences we would share, but then we would have missed out on the special experiences he has gifted us, like the one shared above. We have a long journey ahead of us and he will have me by his side as we go through life – together.
Tze Hui is a 28-year-old whose brother, Tee Ray, attends the Day Activity Centre (DAC) at St. Andrew’s Autism Centre. On the first Friday of each month, she takes leave from her job as an Analyst at a bank to volunteer at the DAC.
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