My Brother's Autism
Baily Hornstein, Division 2, 12th grade

One of the most challenging, yet rewarding experiences I have had, is to provide care for my brother Brenen, who has special needs.  Having a brother with autism and epilepsy has had a tremendous impact on my life.  One of the most important life lessons I have learned over the years working with my brother, is to help people that are unable to help themselves.  While most people would think the time that I spend with him would be me helping him, it is actually quite the opposite.  Interacting with him has taught me many helpful skills that I would be able to utilize in the future as a teacher.  These skills include patience, acceptance of those that are different, as well as alternative ways to learn new concepts and skills.

I typically work with Brenen when my parents are working or just need some leisure time.  I encourage Brenen to jump on the trampoline, do puzzles, color, as well as directing him to do his chores.  My brother has given me a view of life that most people never see.  He has many challenges, and therefore, I have learned patience and the need to adapt quickly to certain situations.  For example, my coach recently mentioned to me how patient I was while helping a new diver during practice. 

My training in working with my brother has been ongoing since I was a toddler. I have watched my parents and other volunteers work both effectively and not so effectively with him.  Over the years I have learned to incorporate effective interactions to his behaviors.  People with special needs do not always understand a logical solution and require creative adaptations for ongoing learning and safety.
One of my goals when I am working with Brenen, is to have him engaged with me and/or other people versus being entertained by an electronic device.  I often use his love of jumping or catching as a means of engaging him in physical activity with me.

Another goal I have for my Brother is to have him do chores as a way of contributing to the family.  I help him with his chores by verbally prompting him.  These chores include feeding the dog, putting away the dishes from the dishwasher and doing his laundry.  If the verbal prompts do not work then I need to physically show him what to do.
Brenen can be very challenging.  He often would prefer to simply watch TV and not participate in physical or mentally stimulating activities.  When he does not want to be active, I need to be creative and energetic to encourage him to play outside, do a craft, or interact with me or his sisters.

Brenen can be defiant, and sometimes he needs a break before engaging in activities that most would deem purposeful.  Autistic individuals generally have a very short attention span and need a balance between work and rest.  Work for an autistic person can include simply engaging in eye contact or answering simply yes or no questions.  I need to be creative when I work with Brenen.  

Interacting with my brother has taught me many positive traits that I will use in the future.  These traits include patience, acceptance of those that are different, as well as an appreciation for my academic and athletic talents that others are not able to do.

 In addition to working with Brenen, I have raised money for bio-medical research through the BHARE Foundations tag days.

 Throughout high school I have recruited volunteers and participated in this fund raising effort.  Every spring, volunteers like me take to the streets in the Northwest suburbs to raise money for autism.  We hand out an autism information card and candy while we collect generous donations from motorists.  Every year we have collected several thousands of dollars for research. 

My high school offers a student teaching program that I am currently enrolled in.  I have worked with many different children, and thanks to my brother’s diverse behaviors, I have learned to use different methods and techniques to teach skills.  Not everyone learns the same way, and I believe I have acquired the ability to teach the same lesson using different approaches.  How I interact with my brother and the children I work with will transfer into the student teaching environment while I am working toward my Elementary Education Degree.
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