“Autism doesn’t stop me from enjoying life” – National Siblings Day

It’s National Siblings Day on Sunday so we chatted to Joe, who has autism, and his sisters Charlie and Lauren. In this blog they talk about growing up together, their achievements and how their lives have been shaped by autism.

Joe

I live in Much Hadham with my parents and my sister Lauren. My hobbies are computers and reading. I also like hiking and indoor climbing. At the moment I’m working for East Herts District Council as a BSU Officer for Environmental Health. It’s basically filing, scanning, taking messages. I like that I get on with everybody, it boosts my confidence and I like keeping busy. People don’t treat me differently. My colleagues just treat me like anyone else, as a friend.

Autism doesn’t stop me from enjoying life

I found out about my autism diagnosis from my doctor and my mum when we arranged for me to have a personal tutor at college. Until then I just thought that’s how being a teenager was. But it doesn’t stop me from enjoying life at all.

Autism might affect me at first when it comes to social situations but I’ve found that it helps me too. I’ll admit, when I started taking phone calls at work it was daunting but I thought I should overcome that problem just by practicing using the phone. Holding back from situations like this wouldn’t do me any good.

My family

My family have supported me and made me feel positive about my life. Like most families we have our ups and downs but most of the time we get on great. We go on trips to the cinema or somewhere to eat, to the theatre or just shopping. Mind you, when it comes to clothes shopping, I do like my sisters but I find the way they shop a bit boring. But I suppose other guys who have sisters are the same.

Joe’s advice for other people

I’m settled at the moment and grateful for everything that has happened to me so far. Where I’m working is the best employment as far as I know. I love living here and I’m not planning to move anywhere else, not for a long time anyway.

From my experience, my advice is to be positive about autism; don’t think of it as a negative thing. If I feel positive about autism and I’m not letting it affect my life too much, other people can do the same too.

Lauren and Joe young
Joe and his sister Lauren when they were young

Lauren and Charlie

Joe is just Joe

Charlie: Joe can be a very sweet, thoughtful, nice guy. He loves computer games and pop music, and he has quite a silly sense of humour.

Lauren: One of the things I like is that he gets my sense of humour. I’m quite sarcastic and they say you’re never meant to be sarcastic to someone with autism because they will take you literally, but he gets me.

Charlie: He once told someone to ‘eat his shorts’ when she told him off, because we used to all watch The Simpsons together when we were little. That always tickles me.

Lauren: Everybody loves him, from his colleagues to his tutors at college. I remember at his student of the year event, people turning round to us and saying ‘Oh you’re Joe’s family! You’re so lucky; he’s such a lovely boy.’

Charlie: He’s painfully honest though. He’d say things like ‘no offense Charlie but shouldn’t you have moved out by now?’

Lauren: One my favourite stories was when he went for his DLA assessment. He’s never really been a drinker, but we’ll have a glass of champagne at New Year’s. At his DLA interview they asked him ‘What do you drink?’ and he said ‘Coke, but occasionally champagne.’ And obviously DLA is a benefit so we had to back track and be like ‘very very very very rarely!’

The flip side

Lauren: You can get jealous of the amount of attention that is paid to them and when they’re allowed to do certain things. When you’re younger you don’t understand why, it’s just “why is he allowed to do that if I’m not?” but as you get older you realise it’s ‘anything for an easy life’ – they’re just simple things that will make him happy.

Charlie: We sometimes felt protective, like any sister would. If anyone said anything about Joe I wanted to rip their head off. Kids can be horrible but they don’t mean anything by it. They just see someone doing something that’s not ‘the norm’ and they comment on it. Lauren has always been better at dealing with it than I have.

Understanding autism

Lauren: When I found out that he had autism I think I was about 7. I remember mum explaining it to me and being like ‘oh yeah, of course’. It just all made sense. I used to spend a lot of time researching autism. I didn’t really know how to talk about it, I didn’t want to talk about it and there wasn’t like a school guidance counsellor or anything. So I just used to read about it a lot.

At school I found out there was a boy who had an autistic sister and I remember being excited to talk to him. But then he told me that she has really high support needs and I was a bit taken aback, because that’s not something I could relate to.

Charlie: I’m the only person I know who’s got an autistic brother, other than Lauren obviously. Some people act like they know about autism in a very patronising way. They don’t mean to be.

Lauren: It’s that innocent ignorance that Scope talks about in End the Awkward.

Lauren and Joe older
Joe and his sister Lauren last year

Sharing success

Charlie: When Joe was in college he won ‘Student of the Year’ two years running. I was head girl at my sixth form and so was Lauren. I love that we’ve all shared the same sort of accolades. That was really nice.

Lauren: I credit a lot of who I am to Joe. I think I’m a nice person and I have empathy for people. For my dissertation at university I did a political research report for an MP. Joe was looking for jobs and I was getting incredibly frustrated because he had all these skills, he was diligent and hard-working – so why wasn’t he getting a job? That’s what I chose to look into. It’s always shaped what I’ve done, including my job today.