"What's it like having a brother that is 'different?' ... was a question that I was asked many times by other kids who were curious. As a child, sometimes we never know what is normal from what is strange until an adult opens our eyes to the world of prejudice. I understood what they meant, though. Dustin wasn't the normal child; he was 'different'... he had a hard time paying attention in class, he had nervous tics. He was a kid without a worry in the world...sometimes a world only he seemed to understand.
He was diagnosed with being mildly autistic at the young age of 3. My mom had developed a close relationship with Dustin's preschool teacher; every day they'd write back and forth in a notebook to give insight on how his day went. Sometimes he'd be so hyper it would be hard for him to stay seated long enough to hear a story. Many nights my mother cried silently, not knowing what else to do for her little boy. Her first four children were healthy and normal... and Dustin came along with a challenge. Sometimes challenges are what keeps a family going. My mother took him under her wing, and patiently taught him on his own time. He had a hard time grasping how to tie his shoes... and instead of being scolded like many parents will do out of impatience, my mother bought him velcro shoes. The first time he tied his shoes at the age of 12, my mom took him to the store and let him pick out his own pair of shoes (buzz lightyear...).
He didn't have concept of time or season during those early years. One summer, he wore his winter boots. He didn't want to take them off... he ran around the house with these boots on all summer. My mother eventually gave up and shrugged it off as just a little challenge.
He was an eager child. He loved going to school. Early one morning, he woke up and got himself dressed for school and ran to the bus stop a block away... at 5 in the morning. Another challenge, another lock placed on the door. These were the few challenges my parents faced... from buying a new lock, child gates, to sleeping with one eye open.
His blue eyes took in the world with a new understanding. He didn't see people the way we see them. We see someone different and somehow judge them; he sees them smile and smiles back at them.
As he grew older, he learned to ride his bike. He would spend all day on his bike. The first time he wrecked his bike, he came home with tears running down his face. My mom put her hand under his chin, brought his face up and asked him what was wrong. "I wrecked my bike..." he said. "I ran into a parked car..." She assured him everything was fine, and wiped his tears away.
Dustin grew up to be a smart kid. He was a perfect student- always willing to learn. Anytime he came upon a challenge with his school work, he learned to overcome the obstacle. He ended up being on honor roll, winning an award for best personality. He was a shy boy, and yet when he would get home he'd talk up a storm.
He once told me that he knew that Jesus was real because he could feel him in his heart. Most people live their lives questioning the existence of God... he simply believed because he felt him.
Dustin is now 20 years old. He has overcome many obstacles in his life. He has graduated from highschool. My mother taught him patiently how to drive and he received his drivers license. He has not let autism hold him back from the experience of life. He is full of hope and love. He has taught many people that you are not any more different than what others make you out to be.... as far as he is concerned, you are the same kind of different as me. The world is a much better place because I've seen first-hand that hope and faith is stronger than any kind of judgement from others.
Everyone is different in their own way... as long as you believe in yourself, anything is possible.
Thank you Dustin for teaching me that whenever I feel like I have lost hope in this world... that you continue to believe that the world isn't as bad of a place as many people think. Sometimes we need to open our hearts a little more, and understand that not everyone is the same. I wish there were more kids like you in the world... maybe we would have a little more hope in each other.
...what's it like to have a brother that is different? It means all the difference in the world.