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What my special-needs brother taught me about being “normal”

Don’t be afraid to talk about it, let them know that they don’t need to fight for normal because there is no such thing as “normal”.

My 20-year-old brother is incredibly special. He keeps to himself most of the time but when he speaks, the energy he radiates engages anyone in the room. He knows right and wrong, he knows love and hate. He doesn’t notice the differences between people, he doesn’t take note of skin colour, culture, or religion. He has his hard days, where there are arguments, fights, and tears which only make me appreciate the good days of play, laugh, and jokes even more. The frustration he faces when he is unable to keep up with others brings out the worst in him. But he is the first to greet any guests at our house, and adamant about bringing the groceries in and emptying the dishwasher.

When I look at him, I am reminded of how little we understand about human behaviour and how unknown the mind is and its intriguing way of working. I remember when he was growing up, nobody had to tell me that he needed looking after, more so than other kids. Nobody needed to say to me, ‘your brother needs more attention’. I just knew.

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As well as being incredibly special, he is incredibly difficult at the worst of times. Nights where I have gone to bed asking, ‘why?’ and crying myself to sleep because I have failed to show patience. And then he is incredibly kind, like when he shares the last piece of cake or gives up all his time to help me study through the night.

His way of communication means he is misunderstood by many. But his extraordinarily abstract way of thinking has opened my eyes to the world. Beyond the tantrums, and the frustrations and the seemingly never-ending fights, there is something really unique about him. His innocence sees the world without prejudice. He has taught me about individuality, communication, and unconditional love.

As mentioned in the Quran (64:15) – “Your wealth and your children are but a trial, and Allah has with Him a great reward.”

What my brother has also taught me is that the unfortunate stigma that comes with children with special needs in some cultures can be heartbreaking at times. Not being able to share problems, solutions, and conversations can seclude families even more to the extent they are trapped in a bubble of anxiety and fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of how people will react. When I was told to keep his nature hidden, I thought, ‘but how will people see his true happy self, something that shines through despite his struggle to communicate’? Despite the years of bullying he has endured, he still has the biggest heart out of all of us.

Muslim, single and disabled

I find strength in the verse: ‘Say, “If I should err, I would only err against myself. But if I am guided, it is by what my Lord reveals to me. Indeed, He is Hearing and near.” (Quran 34:50)

To anyone who reads this, the next time you see a parent struggling with their child or someone being picked on in the streets, sometimes even just a kind word will be the greatest support you can give. Don’t be afraid to talk about it, let them know that they don’t need to fight for normal because there is no such thing as “normal”.

One of the hardest lessons I have learnt from my brother is self-acceptance. Without it, we are lost in a pursuit to be normal to the extent where we have sacrificed potential because we have tried to be like everyone else.

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