Ali Carbone, a 26-year-old from Long Island, NY, admits that growing up with three brothers who have autism instantly taught her about the importance of compassion. And while having siblings with special needs isn't always easy, Ali gave some insight as to what it's like growing up with her three brothers, Michael, 24, Anthony, 18, and Luke, 16 in an eye-opening Facebook post.
The [autism] spectrum is wide and represented perfectly under one roof in my home. No two autistic people are alike, and for many, autism is just the beginning of the developmental and cognitive disorders they will have to deal with throughout their lives. Michael, my oldest brother, is non-verbal, blind, and epileptic. Anthony is verbal, social, and suffers from severe OCD. Luke is mildly verbal and hyperactive. These traits though, they don't define them at all.
For Ali, her brothers are so much more than their diagnosis, and she needs others to see that. "Michael lives for a good Disney movie throwback and would be content with giving hugs and kisses all day, every day. Anthony literally thinks he's Michael Jackson and will destroy you in any performance-related competition," she joked. "Luke loves to run and hang outside and will take every opportunity to mess with his oldest brother. That is who they are."
"I remember being 12 years old thinking: 'What am I gonna do when my parents are gone. How am I gonna take care of the boys?'"
Ali told POPSUGAR that having three brothers with special needs made her ultra sensitive to the needs of other individuals with autism:
"As a kid, I already understood compassion and could instantly tell if another child around me was disabled or autistic. I'd treat them with kindness instead of laughing at them like some of the other kids my age," she said. "Even back then I just remember feeling like there was bigger meaning or purpose to my life."
And as the oldest, Ali admits that she was concerned about her brothers' well-being from a super young age. She explained how housing for people with special needs is an important topic that doesn't get the attention it deserves.
I remember being 12 years old thinking: "What am I gonna do when my parents are gone. How am I gonna take care of the boys?" Now, that was just me in my head as a young kid trying to deal with this stuff. [But] I also want people to take my post and think about the humans behind the diagnosis. Right now, there are limited housing options adults with autism. A tough reality for many parents of autistic individuals is, "Where will they end up when I die? Will they be taken care of?" The worry never ends.
In an effort to do what's best for the family, her parents made the tough decision in 2013 to place the three boys in a housing facility designed to help people with autism develop.
"I hated it at first. My house was way too quiet. But it was really nice to see my parents get to sit down after work and take a minute for themselves," she said. "Parents with disabled children, they need that. It's like having a newborn or toddler your entire life. It's exhausting."
She warned that her parents' decision to put their sons in a children's residential home (CRP) didn't come without criticism. "I'm sure parents of typical children can't imagine the 'terrible twos' being their entire lives. So for people who judged my parents for making the decision to put the boys in the CRP? I'm confident they wouldn't last a minute in my parents' shoes. They probably wouldn't have the strength to even realize these are decisions that are made every day in special needs families."
Today, Michael, Anthony, and Luke are doing better than ever. They spend five days at CRP and come home every Saturday morning to spend time with the rest of the family, and have made seriously strides emotionally.
As for Ali, well, she's learned many important lessons from growing up having three siblings with autism. "My brothers and autism have taught me everything I know to be true about life," said Ali. "Real life. How to live, how to treat people, how to think, and how to feel. Someone always has it worse than you. Stay positive and remember that we've made it this far, through all these heartaches — we still can find happiness and love."