71: Rocky Road

71: Rocky Road

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Raising Kids on the Spectrum

Rocky Road

Sometimes being a brother is even better than being a superhero.

~Marc Brown

I magine you are an ice cream fanatic. You love vanilla ice cream. There is nothing you ever want more then just plain vanilla ice cream, and so you go to the ice cream parlor to get one bowl of vanilla ice cream. Then they give you Rocky Road. You never asked for it, and you probably don’t even like nuts. But they’ve closed the ice cream parlor, and there’s no going back.

That is how my family tried to explain my brother to me.

When you’re eight years old and your brother has just been diagnosed with a condition you can’t possibly understand, everything you do gets seen through a different lens. I was an only child for six years. I got more care and attention in a day than most children would get in a month. When I thought about getting a little brother, I didn’t see him as competition. I saw him as a sidekick, as an accomplice. I had my place at the top of the mountain. No one could move me.

My descent started when Charlie turned two. My parents sat me down, told me that he had been labeled as autistic. It meant nothing to me at the time. But time passed, and things began to get clearer. Charlie had aides, a special school, an entourage that followed him and tried to console him and cater to him. He got everything he wanted. I did not. I wanted him to give me something. All he did was take: he took my attention, he took my toys, he took my place at the top of the mountain.

Time has passed. Eight years later, Charlie is still my brother. And he still has that label. He has moments where he’ll lose control and just rant at my parents or at the walls. He’ll ignore the world and slip away, closing off his mind, no matter how hard we try to pull him away. People who meet him for the first time sometimes come away asking questions and shaking their heads. He’s not like other kids, and he never will be. But he goes to public school and plays on the soccer team. He eats all kinds of food. He can have conversations for hours now, not seconds. Most people see him as how he is. I see him as how he’s changed.

Charlie has his challenges, but he has his strengths. He has the most amazing memory I’ve ever seen. He memorizes plays, musicals, songs, numbers, words, systems, games, anything he can wrap his mind around. Then he can recite it all back to you, without prompting. He just works like that. Others don’t. The difference is that simple.

It’s not like I asked for vanilla ice cream and they gave me a shoe. They still gave me ice cream. It’s just not the flavor I asked for. I think of what we as a family have tried to teach Charlie, but then I can’t help but think about what he’s taught us: empathy, compassion, reserving judgment, the true meaning of a challenge. Challenge is having to see someone or something in a way no one else will. He is the most caring ten-year-old child I have ever met. We give him love, and he takes it and gives it all back to us twofold. He’s generous and faithful. And he’s my brother. And he’s autistic.

I wouldn’t want him any other way.

~Eric Tor

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