We Are America

Voices of the Nation's Future

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Photo ofJoevanie Monge

Out of all my siblings, I am the second oldest. Well, on my mom's side I’m the second oldest, but on my dad's side I’m the oldest. I was eleven when my mom had twins, a boy and a girl. When the twins were born I was kind of anxious and stressed because their arrival meant I’d get less attention and I would have to help my mom care for them. I knew this because over the last year I had been the only one to help my mom with my one-year-old brother. It was already difficult enough dealing with one brother and when the twins came it got even harder. My mom tried her best to give me freedom to be a child and go outside and spend time with my friends, but I’d often say I didn't want to do any of that so I could help her with my siblings.

My mom and I soon realized how challenging it was taking care of my new baby brother. He constantly threw tantrums, he was really emotional all the time. He would bang his head on the floor or wall when he was frustrated or angry or when he didn't get his way. When I was twelve someone told us that they thought my brother might have autism. My mom got him tested and learned that he did have autism.  

As a twelve year old I was really confused. I had never heard of autism. One afternoon my mom explained to me what autism was, and how it affected my little brother. My mom told me that we had to treat him differently. We could not get mad at him whenever he got emotional and threw tantrums because he couldn't control it. After that everyone was always kind to him including me. My mom learned how to calm him. She would often hold him or hold his head so he didn't hit it on the floor when throwing tantrums. After watching my mom and seeing how she cared for my brother, I learned how to help him when he was upset. 

But I worried, how would my brother be treated? Would people pick on him because he was different? The thought crossed my mind a lot. I got super defensive whenever somebody would look at him in a weird way when they found out he had autism.

By fourteen I was a pro at caring for children, especially children with autism. That year my dad got out of jail and he and he and my stepmother also had twins. Yeah I know crazy—right—another set of twins! I moved in with them and helped raise my new siblings. The baby twins were a year old when we learned that my new brother also had autism. But I already knew how to care for him because of my other brother. I was honestly excited and proud that I'd be able to help more when I found out he had autism.

My new baby brother and I grew really close. We spent most of our time together and we shared a bedroom. We played and talked to each other all the time. I was also the only one who he’d listen to besides my dad. After a year or two my dad had another son, who was also identified as having autism. I helped with him too.

I now live with my stepmom and six of my siblings, including two of my autistic brothers, my other siblings live in foster homes and my older brother lives by himself. I help my autistic brothers everyday. I realize that it's a lot easier than when I was younger because I’m older, I also have more experience. I know that people who have autism are just like me and you. My brothers are some of my best friends that make me smile in some way every day.