Meet Zoë Myers. Her brother, Evan, has autism and she shares eye-opening insights on her experience as a sibling (and as a triplet!). "Different does not mean less than. Don't apologize when I tell you I have a brother with autism," Zoë writes. Her powerful words are a must-read and remind us to celebrate neurodiversity, disability inclusion, and unconditional love.
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Zoë Myers. I'm from Highland, California. I was born with my two brothers in the year of 2000. Yes, we're triplets! Since my parents found out the news of having three, they dreamed of watching us all start school in the same class, watching us go to Prom together, watching us graduate high school together. Everything changed when my brother Evan was diagnosed with low functioning autism at the age of two. They knew from that day on that one would be left behind.
What has it been like growing up with a sibling on the autism spectrum?
Growing up with a brother with autism, someone that I've been with since before birth, has just been normal for me. Just because he is different than Noah (the other triplet) and I, does not mean we have ever treated him any different. He is still part of us, part of our DNA. Noah and I have walked him through his journey since the beginning. Evan has made me who I am and what I'm passionate about. I am an autism advocate because I see autism from the inside out. I don't see a "disability," I see an intelligent person trapped inside a body with a brain that's just different than others. He deserves to be respected just like everyone else, not baby talked and belittled. What I've noticed about society is that people seem to be unaware and uneducated that all autism is is a neurological disorder, not a mental disorder. He's not crazy. He's not stupid. He's not less than. And that's why I am treasurer of the disabilities club at my school. That's why I want to be a social worker for disabled people. I want to help people that are normally so misunderstood, and to educate as many people as possible about what autism really is.
What is the most challenging or eye-opening moment you have had as his sibling?
The most challenging thing that Evan has to deal with every day is society. When people stare at him, as if he's some kind of monster, I take it so personally. It feels like they're disrespecting a part of me. People with autism know that they're different. They're humiliated and haunted by it every day, and the main reason that makes them feel this way is society. I think Evan is a lot more used to rude and ignorant people than I am. To this day, when I see people stare it makes me want to yell out "what are you looking at? Take a picture it'll last longer." But I have to remind myself that there is such a lack of education about autism. It's eye opening how uneducated or falsely educated people are about autism. It's up to us, people that knows autism on a personal level, to educate as many people as possible. We see the struggles every day that other people have no idea about.
Another struggle for Evan is him trying to communicate without words. I imagine how frustrating and lonely that must be to not be able to tell anybody what's wrong, how your day was, ask a question, tell somebody that your stomach hurts, or that it's too loud, but it has made my family and I more patient. Evan is nonverbal, so since we were little I've always been Evan's translator. Any time I can hear what he's saying through his mumbling, I'll tell my parents. I pay close attention to his face expression and body language to figure out what he's thinking. I try to help him overcome that communication obstacle as much as I can, even though I wish we could do more.
Who are your strongest resources and supporters for your experience with a loved one on the spectrum?
The loved ones in our lives are his biggest supporters. Evan has positively changed everyone's lives that have crossed his way. He has made us happier, less judgmental, more patient, understanding and aware of all different kinds of people. Once I get close with someone, and start talking about autism and Evan, I start to see that person change and have a different perspective. I find that amazing that Evan impacts people that much. Because of Evan, I see who I need in my life. I see the better in other people because of him. My friends are very active in the disabilities community, when before meeting Evan didn't know very much about disabilities at all. Because of Evan, my loved ones are supporters of not just autism, but disabilities as a whole.
How do you imagine your relationship with your brother in the future?
My relationship with Evan will always be an unbreakable bond that we've had since before birth. No matter what happens, Evan will always have his two buddies right behind him. Noah and I have been around Evan more than anyone has on this planet, and I know that there's a person in that body with thoughts, feelings, likes, dislikes, and everything in between. Different does not mean less than. Don't apologize when I tell you I have a brother with autism. It has made such an impact on so many people's lives and I wouldn't change anything for the world.
What advice do you have for other siblings of individuals with autism?
Advice I have for other siblings with autism is that I know it's difficult sometimes because all you want for them is to be understood, and you feel like you're the only one that really knows who they are. It feels like you're the only one that treats them like a human being, but you have to stay strong. Educating people is so important, you're impacting society. It's our duty to make a difference and speak up for those who can't speak up for themselves. Autism has made you and your family stronger, so always take pride in that.