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Why Are You Single?…An Autism Sibling’s Perspective.

Nat AntBy Natalie Palumbo

I'm 22, a Motion Design senior at Ringling College of Art and Design, and my older brother Anthony has low-verbal autism. I am currently working on my senior thesis. My animation portion is complete, and I have been green-lighted for my set design and projection mapping plans. Now, to build it!

I was having a casual conversation with someone, and out of the blue, the person asked me, “Why are you single?” I was completely unprepared for the question. Immediately, my mind began to race as I tried to imagine why they were asking. After a few awkward seconds, I replied, “What do you mean?” They said, “Well, it just seems to me that a lot of autism siblings tend to keep to themselves, and I wondered why that was the case for you?” I said, “Well, I can’t just look for someone that will treat me well. I must also find someone that will be considerate towards Anthony, too. It makes things more complicated.” They nodded, but I wondered if they really understood.

I'm never NOT an autism sibling. It never leaves my mind. I factor it into everything unconsciously. I will have to take over my brother's care when my parents are no longer able, so I focus on being successful more than anything. Regardless of whether or not I have companionship, that is something I'm always preparing for in the back of my mind. There is no room to be superficial when you have a sibling with a disability that will need you. You have to consider every single choice, and every possible consequence. Being reckless with my life places Anthony's future in jeopardy, too. It's hard to let that go.

I have personally found it difficult to be casual when it comes to any relationship.  'Forever' is not Nat Jacketsomething I seek to bind anyone to, but I can't help but insert my experience into the mix. My life as a sibling makes me different, and I have things to consider that are out of the ordinary. I think about people's intent toward me. If I suspect it's insincere, or a momentary fling, I'm leery. I don't have time to invest in anyone that truly doesn't care. I cannot erase my experience and become mindlessly carefree because I know I will have to return to the sobering reality that Anthony will need me someday. There isn’t enough momentary distraction in the world for me to completely let my reality go. My hope is to find someone who truly wants to understand my life, and chooses to stay. To find that quality in a friend is hard enough. I've only come across a precious few.

I tend to be very cautious about who I include in my life, and it directly stems from being a sibling of someone low-verbal. From when I was very young, I watched people's behavior. If someone was purposely rude, or mistreated people, I immediately lost all interest in them. If someone tried to bully me, I immediately thought, well, if I'm too different for them, they'd never accept Anthony...I don't want anyone in my life that wouldn't accept Anthony. I felt Anthony would be vulnerable around toxic people and their cruel behavior. There are far too many stories of abuse towards people with disabilities. I can't distance myself from those stories. The threat is real to me. My circle of friends may be small, but I know I am protecting my brother by being more selective.

Anthony’s autism is the sole reason I didn’t put up with harassment when I was in high school. Even in college, I am put off when someone is unnecessarily rude. To me, if someone doesn't care if they're hurtful, how can they possibly have the compassion necessary to consider my brother? I can't help but factor that in to my decision to interact with people.

When you're faced with the constant reality that your sibling is unable to protect themselves, you have to be strong enough for both of you. For me, this knowledge made me more tolerant, but it has also eroded my innocence. I can't help but be tuned in to people's capacity to be cruel. If I witness cold behavior, I am immediately guarded.  Living in denial would be easier, but more dangerous. I can't afford dangerous.

I have met some incredible people, and I don't believe I will spend my life alone. I am happy in my major, and excited about the work I am doing. I feel privileged to be preparing for my future at my dream college (Thanks Dad)! My mom keeps telling me to “Be the best you, and you will attract the best people for the best you”. I try to be, because I want the best people for Anthony, too.

I love my brother.

Natalie Palumbo is a Contributing Editor to Age of Autism.



I wish i had half the character You have now when i was Your age. I wish i had half that character now. There are few people in this world i believe are deserving of all the love, peace, and joy, this world has to offer; You Madam, are the first i would nominate! May that be at Your finger tips in what ever form makes You happy! Thank You! Thank You! Thank You! for all these brilliant posts!


God Bless you Natalie! Anthony is very fortunate to have such a devoted, sister. You have a maturity well beyond your years and a sensitivity that is a gift. I have a son with autism and he has an older brother who also assures us he will be there and take care of his brother when we are gone. The world needs more wonderful siblings like you.


I have a daughter, Natalia (13, just a few days ago), who has a 10 year old brother and it's like you...she said to me about 2 weeks ago something about taking care of Liam. I said...what do you mean? Without much thought (so it seemed to me), she said "mom, when you and dad can't take care of Liam or aren't here any more, he'll be with me. I have to take care of him and I'm alright with that." She totally assumed this. We have worked tirelessly, like all moms/dads here, to heal him for him first, but for his sister next. I don't want this to fall onto her, but it was amazing how simply she assumed it. I said "what if you get married and your husband doesn't want to take care of your brother or have him live with you, if he can't be independent?" She said, well, too bad, then caught herself and said something like.... well, I'd never marry a person like that anyway that wouldn't accept Liam; if they love me, they have to love him too." I thought, dear God we did something right. I don't want this huge responsibility to fall on my she is 12 (at the time) saying this. But, thank you Lord, we did something right for her to be so kind, loving and thoughtful. Now if I could just build up her confidence to let mean teen girl talk roll off her shoulders! :/ You are amazing. I would love my daughter to meet you some day. You are a wonderful roll model. I hope you lives all your dreams. Blessings to you, Kathi

connie datu

Thanks for this very inspiring post. I salute you for being an incredible and loving sister to your brother. Let me share some info that many of your readers might find very useful

Denise Anderstrom Douglass

Thank you, Natalie. While you are waiting for the future, please never forget to live fully every day -- for your own well being. We never know what the unforeseen future may bring. I have a son, who survived a health issue that few, if any, his age survived. No one could tell us what road to take, what tactics would work, and he's virtually unheard of as a survivor of his childhood cancer. And my next younger son grew up to be the custodial parent of two boys, the older, a tall, handsome genius, the second son, three years younger, with the now classic regressive autism associated with the MMR vaccine, with all the gut and low verbal, and wandering , and etc. His brother knows he's the one who will take care of his brother. Now there's a sentence for ya. Just saying : don't rule out things ahead of time. You will rise to any occasion. May you be as blessed as I have been. What's on the inside is seldom obvious at first glance.

Jeannette Bishop

Natalie, I appreciate every time you contribute in writing and video here. You always seem to inspire me to aim to be a little better. Thanks so much!

Jack Davis

I have a low functioning autistic brother too. I totally understand the intolerance for bullying. Autism awareness was nonexistent in the 1950s when I grew up. But I can see that even today it is not easy for sibs. If you care to visit my site you can meet my brother Mike and see his influence on me: Posts in 2013 are about him and me.

Clara Lowe

I have a 12yr old autistic son name Christopher, and he too has a oldest sister name Natalie.Not one day do I thank god for my daughter Natalie she is an amazing sister to her brother and she loves him very much and has accepted that she too one day will have to take care of her brother.My pain is deep because my daughter never has thought of her self she simply knows that her brother comes first and she is okay with this.I feel so guilty for her having this layed out for her future, but she always assures me that she couldn't imagine her life with out her brother.So just like to say to you Natalie and My Natalie you are an amazing Sister...Thank you.

Anne McElroy Dachel

Natalie, thank you for this thought piece.

Your words are a call to action for siblings of kids with autism. IF you don't advocate for your family member, who will? When your brother of sister is an adult, it'll be up to you to make sure that society provides for this new population of disabled Americans.

I can tell you, no one is ready for them. Officials have lied to us for years, assuring everyone that all the autism is nothing new, just better diagnosing of a condition that's always been here.

The long waiting lists and the care givers who have to be trained to deal with autism are proof that we've never had people like this in significant numbers before.

The quality of care they receive will depend on how much you demand for them. Thank God for the Natalies out there. They will make sure all the Anthonys are seen as the valuable human beings they are!

Angus Files

Natalie its a worry for almost everyone .Our son would miss us all, but hasn't much capacity to comprehend much, although he likes his family life, for sure.There are some places that can help. An interesting one was sent recently to me,( below) and I think, the concept is brilliant, and I wish it would oldest son is 21 years old and doing his own thing,a great distance from us ,as caring parents in the best possible way..we are just glad we don't know 5% of it all, although his concern is always"any improvement in G yet?"..

Massachusetts -



Can you imagine if there were a million more Natalie Palumbo's in the world? So many of we autism mom's would sleep so much better to know "the Natalie's" were out in the world, vs. many of the self-absorbed, cell phone staring 20 somethings that seem to be the norm nowadays.

Natalie, you are a beautiful person inside and out. You give me hope for the future. Thank you for sharing you story with us - it helps more than you can imagine.


I wish more people had your sense of loyalty and faithfulness....
The right, best person for YOU, will have no trouble ALSO accepting Anthony....
Worry about "life partners" AFTER you graduate! What's the hurry?
It takes a lifetime....
And it's good to see you're so open about your Gizmonic disorder!

Bob Moffit

"I love my brother."

Natalie .. your brother has been blessed to have an angel for a sister.

And .. judging from our experience with our grandson .. though 16 and non-verbal .. he brings us great personal joy every time he surprises us .. which is more often than not .. with some small sign .. such as .. on the spur of the moment .. getting up from his computer and walking into the kitchen to kiss us on the cheeks .. though no words were spoken .. his small act of affection speaks VOLUMES to us.

Science is pure.  People are corrupt.

Natalie - your beauty runs right through your soul; however most lads your age still have some growing up to do before they will be able to appreciate it.

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