Loving Ben: A Sibling’s Perspective


About the Author

The following essay was contributed by an individual sharing his experience of having an Autistic sibling. The author wishes to remain anonymous.

It would be difficult to talk about my brother Ben without mentioning robots.

Some of my earliest memories of my older brother Ben include the two of us watching episodes or clips of “Robot Wars,” a TV show around the turn of the millennium. Put simply, the show revolves around tournament-style matches of 220-pound robots beating each other to pieces with various automated weapons: axes, spinning disks, flippers, and more. It was not uncommon to witness torn shreds of metal flying about, battery fires generating noxious smokescreens, or entire robots flung high into the air. I think you would be hard-pressed to find a young child who does not enjoy watching this kind of harmless destruction, and I was no exception.

We watched countless hours of this show: two brothers hunched next to one another by the computer or television. But it was always Ben who took the initiative to put on the next video or find the next episode. I was mildly interested in the show, but never enough to pursue its fandom independently, even as I grew old enough to do so. I always had an understanding that this was Ben’s hobby, not mine, and he was sharing his interest with me.

When I consider our relationship over time, I find this example helps to explain the dynamic between Ben and me. A conversation with Ben proceeds in much the same way: Ben will tell me about something he is interested in, and I will ask questions regarding various aspects of what he is telling me. This type of interaction is inherently one-sided, since I have little input on the course of this type of conversation. I find it especially difficult to ask questions if I have less interest in the subject at hand. He rarely asks me to talk about or describe the hobbies or subjects that interest me, and thus I find occasionally we have little to discuss, especially as our interests have diverged over the years.

On the other hand, sharing an interest with Ben is a pleasure I have learned to cherish. Not only is it an uncommon moment of connection, but anyone who knows Ben will understand his capacity to recall even the most obscure pieces of trivia. I am always pleased to discover we share an interest in some TV show or movie, as it means I get to hear Ben’s insightful perspective on the subject at hand. Perhaps I missed some overarching joke during the most recent episode of a TV show, or the significance of some object in the background of a movie we saw recently. I can always count on Ben to uncover and share these things with me. I believe part of having Ben as my brother means seeking these moments as often as possible and remaining patient during others.

I began to bring friends over more often as I grew older, especially in high school. As my father instilled a deep love of board-games in my brother and me, I would often teach my friends various games while sprawled out all together on the living room floor. We could be playing Boggle, Scrabble, cards, or a whole plethora of other games my father had taught us to play. Sometimes Ben would notice this and come sit down to play with us without asking. This was always a challenging situation for me. He was always pleasant to spend time with, and my friends knew he was on the spectrum, but I always felt awkward with him present. It was frustrating to have what I felt was an intrusion on my time I wanted to spend with my friends away from my family. How could I tell my older brother that I didn’t want to see him right then? I wish I had handled the situation differently; instead of feeling he disrupted the dynamic of spending time with my friends, it would have been valuable to discuss the concept of boundaries with him while I had friends over. But I wasn’t able to initiate such a conversation back then. To be honest, it would still be a difficult conversation today.

At the same time, this disregard for social boundaries and cues is one of the qualities I respect most about Ben. I find Ben to be one of the most dependable people I know. Ben is clear and direct in his communication. Whereas another person might hide behind half-answers of ambiguous commitment, ask Ben for a favor or a request and he will respond truthfully. This overwhelmingly forthcoming attitude takes some getting used to, but I am deeply impressed by his transparency during these types of interactions.

He also constantly seeks opportunities to be helpful. As an example, I can’t count the number of times over the years he has asked if I need help baking a dessert for some upcoming family gathering. I know I can count on him as a teammate, and as such I always look forward to when we can work together, regardless of the task, and I believe he does as well.

In the same vein, Ben is quick to provide advice or a solution to what he sees as a problem. Growing up, I was always happy to receive his advice. He was my older brother, after all, and older brothers know things that could help their younger brothers. What’s more, Ben is, frankly, just a really smart guy, so I find it wise to follow his guidance almost as a matter of course. He is ever-patient and has a gift for explaining the things he knows. Seldom does he ask me for advice, but that isn’t something I see as an issue. Personally, I just enjoy having a reason to talk together. Though my relationship with Ben is a little different from other sibling relationships, I am comfortable in the knowledge that Ben is someone I can always count on when I need it most. I look forward to how our relationship will develop as we grow into more prominent roles in our family. He would make such an excellent partner to plan a dinner party! Most importantly, he will always be my brother, and I wouldn’t change a single thing about him.

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