My older brother Alex has severe autism. He is nonverbal, so for all his life, my family has learned to communicate with him in other ways. Over the past couple months, however, COVID-19 has been affecting his mental well-being, and my parents and I are feeling more frustrated that we cannot directly communicate with him.
Before the pandemic, Alex absolutely loved being around people. He met with his therapist a couple times a week, and he spent a lot of time at school. Unfortunately, the virus has prevented him from having all of these things. He has always been a needy person, and often communicates his distress with loud noises, even in a normal, non-pandemic setting. Now, though, it is much crazier. He can’t deal with the lack of social stimulation. My grandparents come help us occasionally, but for the most part it’s my mom who takes care of him. Of course, spending most of his time with only my mom can be aggravating for him, and he takes it out on the rest of us. It has been a tremendous struggle for me to adapt to a house that feels like it’s about to snap under the tension at any second.
Some of his special education teachers at school have come to our house to spend time with him a couple times in the past months. It’s definitely a rare occasion because of certain school policies, but he always seems his happiest when they’re here. They’ve taken him on long car rides around town, which he loves. When they’re not here, we try to think of other ways to help him. Recently, we installed a small pool in the backyard because he absolutely loves to swim, and that has calmed him down lots!
I love my brother a lot. He has always been a great source of annoyance in the best, brotherly way possible, but I’ve learned how to get along with him throughout the years. The COVID-19 era has been an absolute test of my patience, but I like to think that it has made me a better sister. Now, I am forced to actually spend more time with him, so I learn to love him more, even through the tough times. Having empathy is always important. It’s not just empathy for him, but also for my mom. She is the strongest person I know. While there’s a lot we probably don’t know about what Alex wants and needs during such a dramatic shift in day-to-day life, my mom stays steadfast and caring through it all.
So, while I might have a couple headaches in the next few days, I am trying to remember the silver lining. It’s not just the way I can grow and strengthen my moral fiber, but also how I can make Alex’s day just that much brighter— maybe by accompanying him on a car ride to Cold Stone or taking a dip in the pool…
Written by: Lily Zeng