Fri Apr 02 2021 04:00:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)
He waves and shakes hands with every guest that comes over for a dawath. He’s the first to hug brothers in the masjid after Eid prayers. He greets every neighbor when we’re on our daily walks. At home, he rushes to the car to retrieve groceries, folds everyone’s clothes the minute the dryer pings, and takes our plates to the kitchen sink when we’re done eating. He’s a social butterfly, my brother Nedal, and loves to be out and about, and that has made the pandemic especially hard on him.
He couldn’t understand why the school bus and his therapists suddenly stopped coming around. It took him months to understand why masks were necessary during our walks. He was confused as to why he couldn’t shake hands with the neighbors and he would randomly bring up family members’ names, in hopes that we might visit. He would approach us every 30 minutes to tell us the time so that we could tell him what came next on his schedule.
As a kid, I didn’t completely understand that my brother has autism. I just knew that what was mildly annoying to me, like babies crying, the Jigglypuff song, or fireworks, would cause him to throw tantrums. These were all triggers that caused a sensory overload for him as a kid. He often hid in dark closets for hours to decompress and only responded to yes-and-no questions, making it difficult for him to tell my parents how he felt or what he wanted. I remember when he tried to open an old window in our home and the glass shattered, cutting up his hands. The whole way to the hospital, he never once reacted in a way that indicated he was in pain.
Whether he expresses himself or not, my sisters and I have learned how to interpret his feelings over the years. It’s always been a work in progress, but like any sibling relationship, as much as we get each other, we also fight and annoy each other. Nedal grabs the remote and changes the channel to Drake and Josh, turns the lights off in all the rooms, closes the blinds on sunny days, and eats all our snacks when he gets the chance, and he does it all with a smirk on his face. We tussle and chase him around the house for hugs or hi-fives. My youngest sister bosses him around but he loves her like no one else.
My family moved to New York ten years ago to find and dedicate more resources for him. I’ve grown less naive about some of the challenges Nedal faces having autism. I recognize that he will most likely need supervision and guidance for the rest of his life. He’s 22 now and lashes out in anger when he can’t express his frustrations. Any deeper digging into his feelings is still met with either silence or fillers. But he also apologizes, offers comfort, and owns up to his actions. My brother is one of the most understanding and caring people I know. No matter what, he’ll always have my back and I’ll always have his.
Family, Mental Health Awareness