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Three Penny Press

The student news site of Bellaire High School

Three Penny Press

The student news site of Bellaire High School

Three Penny Press

Unspoken love

How autism affects my relationship with my brother
Provided by Claire Bradford
Cole and I hold flowers in a photo our mom took to send to our grandmother. This was the age when I started to pull Cole into fun games I made for him while he was at school.

Sometimes I worry my brother doesn’t understand that I love him.

Or worse. He doesn’t love me back.

When I was growing up, I realized that Cole’s kind of autism meant I could never really know what was going on in his head. I can ask him a thousand questions, but I’ll never be able to see what’s actually going on in his mind.

He responds with a “yes” or a “no,” sometimes a basic sentence. But the back-and-forth dialogue of regular conversation falls flat when he’s done speaking. And even with all the tools my family has given him, verbalizing his thoughts and emotions is a challenge.

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I sit at the dinner table, watching Cole smile and laugh as he enjoys his meal, and wonder if there’s a way I can telepathically let him feel everything I feel for him.

Does he know how from the moment I could speak I wanted to tell him about everything? Does he remember my showing him how to play all kinds of games I knew he would love? Does he ever think about the nights of endless giggling when we used to share a room? Does he understand how much I think about his well-being?

Being three years older than me, he started school first. Every day while he was off in class, I planned my own lessons for him. I read him books, recited the ABCs, taught him a new game involving items from around the house. And when he got home, no matter how tired he was, I would pester him to come play teacher and student with me. Like a dutiful big brother, he would entertain me. By the time I was done, he would be having fun too.

Even today, we are unique. I am still the teacher and he is still the student. I help him articulate when he says his prayers and teach him how to do his chores. I have always defined him by what he can do, not what he cannot. I push him to his limits, and then I push him a little harder. 

We don’t argue over space, nor do we complain about our parents. Instead we bond over taking the trash out and making breakfast. We dance to “Cupid Shuffle” and “Cha-Cha Slide.” We sit together at the dinner table repeating his favorite phrases, like “white airplane for Christmas,” because Christmas is always on his mind. We sit in silence on the couch together, just enjoying each other’s presence when there aren’t many words to say.

He is my first best friend. The first person I look forward to seeing every day. A part of me that shines in my patience and my compassion, my love and my smile. The reason why, wherever I go in my career, I will always fight to advocate for people with special needs.

I smile when I recount to others his boundless joy, his interest in construction vehicles and repeating sounds, his excitement in counting things and checking the time, his off-tune singing to random Disney songs on Thursday afternoons.  

When my mother asked if I would take care of him for life, it was an automatic yes. He’s my everything.

But does he feel the same?

In the moments where I’m scolding him, in the moments where he can’t stand the sight of me, in the moments where my bitter words get directed at him, does he still love me?

I continue to watch him at the table, glancing at him between mouthfuls of food.

I leave the kitchen for a moment, and when I come back he laughs and says “Hi, 4G!” An old nickname my dad gave me back in elementary school that’s since belonged to Cole.

“Hi Cole!”

“Hi 4G!” He laughs again.

“Hi Cole!”

I smile at our little joke. We always say hi to each other at least twice when I enter a room.

After a few seconds I decide to take a moment to test him, just to see what he says. I know what he’ll say, but I need to hear it to ground my thoughts.

“I love you Cole.” I wait a beat for a response.

“I love you Claire.” And then he goes back to eating. 

I blink back tears.

Sometimes I worry that my brother doesn’t understand that I love him. Or worse. He doesn’t love me back. 

But then he greets me with a nickname and a smile every time I enter the room or tells me a random piece of information from his day or tells me he loves me too. And everything is okay.

Cole might not be able to tell me everything, but what he does tell me is enough for me to know that between us, we hold all the love we could ever need.

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  • B

    BettyMar 2, 2024 at 12:41 pm

    I’m so proud of you. Your extraordinary love and dedication to Cole is amazing. The two of you have your own unique ways of communicating and bonding with each other.
    You are a very loving, strong, talented, intelligent and a devoted sister.
    Continue your journey in life with God’s many
    Aunt Betty 🙏🏾💖

  • M

    McKenzie LeFeb 16, 2024 at 12:46 pm

    Claire, I cried. I love this.

  • H

    HasetFeb 13, 2024 at 8:35 pm

    love this, claire bradford

  • J

    Joy XFeb 12, 2024 at 9:39 pm

    Claire, your relationship with your brother is so powerful and heartwarming. Thank you for sharing!