Below is a letter by 17-year-old Seana Wheeler to her 15-year-old brother Ethan. Seana wrote the letter to share all the things she wants to say to her brother.
I remember when you were diagnosed. I was five and you just three. I remember never thinking there was any difference between us. It is only when I look back now, that I see them.
You didn't walk. Other three-year-olds walked. Mom and Dad carried you everywhere we went. You couldn't speak like I could either. I remember never actually having a conversation with you. But boy, you were a great listener!
When I went to school, I truly saw the differences between you and I. I'm ashamed to say, as your sister, I compared you against other children. Simply because I didn't understand autism. Most of all I compared other siblings relationships to ours. Why wouldn't you speak to me? Why couldn't we play? I always felt so different. I felt that maybe I had done something wrong. That I had failed you some way as a sister.
School was a nightmare without a brother. When you were born I imagined us going to school together. I'd walk you to your classroom and then come and check up on you at lunchtimes whilst you terrorized the girls with silly games of 'Kiss chase' and 'ninjas'.
I thought no matter how much trouble you'd be in, I'd always fight your corner.
This part came true at least.
I was six years old when I truly understood the word 'autism'. I had heard it said before by our parents and never thought much of it. I realized at six, that autism was the reason why you didn't walk or couldn't talk to me like other brothers talked to their sisters.
I didn't see your autism as a negative. I named myself your 'Sworn Protector' and vowed to keep you safe from anyone who dared say anything awful about you. I shielded you from cruel intentions and took people's hurtful comments and nasty looks on my shoulders. Anyone said anything mean, they said it to me. If we were out in a restaurant and your high pitch screaming, due to sensory issues, bothered anyone, they would shout at me. Never you.
Now that we are teenagers, we have both grown and changed through the years, (you more than me on the growth front) I have found myself battling a mix of emotions.
I fight between the mixture of overflowing love and the unbreakable bond we share, made stronger by your condition and this slight feeling of resentment. I've heard lots of teenagers who have siblings with autism go through this. Personally, I have felt there is no one like me. I don't know any other 17 year old at college, trying to juggle a job, whilst having a sibling with autism.
I do not hate you, my dearest brother, nor will I ever. This feeling of resentment comes partly from the stresses of your condition, the embarrassment I sometimes cannot help but feel. The rare times we go out to eat, it is in the same restaurant, the same order, accompanied by the constant fight to act like the parents and other children staring at you don't bother me. Our lives have been sorted into this one huge routine. A routine shaped around you.
I can't help but shake the feeling of everything that we as a family have missed out on. The four of us have never been on holiday together. My dream of going all together to Disneyland never happened and will never happen. The noises of a plane would stress you out, security would be a nightmare as you can't wait so would run through it, probably with airport security running right behind you.
Most of all, I find myself mourning the 'proper' brother and sister relationship we could have had. I wish to be that brother and sister who would drive each other insane but still be able to have midnight conversations, watch movies together, play a board game, help each other through the struggles of school by whining about that teacher we both hate. I've dreamt of you being best man at my wedding. You and my husband-to-be would go out for a drink and become the best of friends. Yet now I see that this won't ever happen. But it doesn’t mean I love you any less.
You are the reason I am the person I am. Having you as my brother has been my greatest privilege. I am confident and strong because of you. I can stand up for what I believe in, make decisions. But most importantly I have been made kind. I have empathy for those around me. I do not hate or dislike others for how they feel or what they think or say. I simply empathize. They weren't fortunate enough to have the experiences I have had in such a short space of life. (Okay, they may have gotten that family holiday I've always dreamed about EVERY year but that doesn't count for a good person!) It doesn't make them kind like you have made me.
I'm so proud of everything you have achieved Ethan, I'm so proud that you can walk and run now. Boy can you run! I'm proud that you can speak a little bit more. I'm proud of the hug you give me every day because in that hug I know I have done the best job of being your sister. It is an honor to have you as my brother.
I will love you and protect you always.