Coping With An Autistic Brother: A Teenager's Take Each year, about one child in every 150 is diagnosed with autism. Eleven-year-old Andrew Skillings has Asperger's syndrome, a mild form of autism. Andrew's older sister, Marissa, talks about how she copes with her brother's meltdowns — and how she protects him from the other kids.
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Coping With An Autistic Brother: A Teenager's Take

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Coping With An Autistic Brother: A Teenager's Take

Coping With An Autistic Brother: A Teenager's Take

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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GUY RAZ, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Guy Raz. About one child in every 150 is diagnosed with autism. Eleven-year-old Andrew Skillings is one of those children. He has Asperger's syndrome, a mild form of autism. For Andrew's older sister Marissa, her brother's diagnosis has affected every aspect of her own life. That's what independent producer Erin Davis discovered when she asked Marissa to tell her story.

Ms. MARISSA SKILLINGS: I remember when he was born. I was four and a half. I was waiting in the waiting room, and I was sitting on my aunt's lap. And my dad came down and said it was a boy. And I was so excited because I did not want another girl. I wanted a boy. And then about two weeks later, we had to share a room even when he was that little, and I decided that he needed to go back where he came from because as a baby he never, ever stopped screaming. I didn't understand why he was screaming. And then when we found out that he had a mental disability, I didn't understand.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. SKILLINGS: My name is Marissa Skillings. I am 15 years old. My brother's name is Andrew. He's 11 and he has autism. I don't hate my brother. I'd kill for him. But I could kill him, too.

Mr. ANDREW SKILLINGS: Here is an alarm clock that if you push it, it tells you the time.

(Soundbite of alarm clock)

Automated Voice: 6:07.

Ms. SKILLINGS: He talks nonstop.

Mr. SKILLINGS: This clock, my mother gave this to me as a present. It's a piggy bank... This thing right here measures the...

Ms. SKILLINGS: Talking and talking and talking.

Mr. SKILLINGS: (Unintelligible)

Ms. SKILLINGS: He'll tell anybody information about any animal, whether they want to hear it or not.

Mr. SKILLINGS: She had a snake that was - if it like laid down on the floor and stretched...

Ms. SKILLINGS: People can tell Andrew has a disability because of his hand gestures and the way he moves when he gets nervous. He moves his hands back and forth, and he'll walk with his arms down by his sides just shaking his hands.

Mr. SKILLINGS: Speaking of Sweetie(ph), here's what happened.

Ms. SKILLINGS: He likes to crack his knuckles when he's nervous. And he'll keep doing the movement of cracking his knuckles even if they don't crack.

Remember to take care of your game.

Mr. SKILLINGS: I take care of it.

Ms. SKILLINGS: You do not.

Mr. SKILLINGS: Chicken legs.

Ms. SKILLINGS: Andrew.

Mr. SKILLINGS: What? Chicken tastes good. Look.

Ms. SKILLINGS: Oh yeah. I've beat the crap out of my brother a few times.

Mr. SKILLINGS: Oh, you forget 24/7.

Ms. SKILLINGS: No, I don't. I take care of my own turmoil too.

Mr. SKILLINGS: You are impossible to...

Ms. SKILLINGS: He freaks out. He, like, if I won't get out of the bathroom, and I tell him to shut up, he'll grab a kitchen knife and come over to the door and open the door and chase me around the house with the knife. And I know he'd never touch me with it. But, you know, when he's running with a knife pointed towards me, and I'm running, if he tripped then, something bad could happen. So I have a curfew, and I basically stay out till then...

Mr. SKILLINGS: She's always with her friends. I don't even - she acts like she doesn't live here anymore.

Ms. SKILLINGS: I come home and deal with it when I have to. And when I don't have to deal with it, I make sure I don't.

(Soundbite of glasses clinking)

Unidentified Waitress: Anything else I can bring to you, ladies?

Ms. SKILLINGS: No, that's it.

Unidentified Waitress: Enjoy.

Ms. SKILLINGS: Thank you.

CHANELLE(ph): Thank you.

Unidentified Waitress: You're welcome.

Ms. SKILLINGS: Well, it is...


Ms. SKILLINGS: 4:35...

(Laughing) And I'm with Chanelle. We're eating at Applebys(ph). And then me and Chanelle are probably going toward Mayfield. It's a park where we watch really hot guys play basketball. And Cam Newman(ph), he's a babe. And he's really tanned. And I really hope he doesn't hear this, or his girlfriend. OK, anyway...


Ms. SKILLINGS: I started staying away from home around five or six. I'd stay outside or go to friends' houses as long as I could until my mom called me home. I can sit down and talk with my parents. But a lot of times, it's like Andrew's always trying to explain something about a cheetah or a jaguar or something in the jungle that has no importance to anybody's life. But he just loves to share that information, yackity yack.

And if I interrupt him, he gets mad, and it turns into a tantrum, and my mom tells me to wait. And then it's just like - I don't even want to talk to you guys anymore. I think they understand that I don't have them enough, but there's nothing they can do. And they know that I know there's nothing they can do. If I stay away from it for a long time, like going out with friends and avoiding to be home till curfew, then I'll have more of a tolerance for it for the rest of the night.

Mr. SKILLINGS: Marissa, she has the guts, and I don't. It's like all of a sudden, we just had this transfer. All of my guts went into her.

Ms. SKILLINGS: When you're at the age of 11, you're going to have kids, and they're going to tease you and say mean things. It's just a stage you go through in school.

Mr. SKILLINGS: I do not stand up for myself. She stands up for me.

Ms. SKILLINGS: Socially he needs help, so I have to protect him and be there for him more than a normal big sister would. The neighborhood we lived in...

Mr. SKILLINGS: Like, back in our old house...

Ms. SKILLINGS: This kid kept picking on him every day and beat him up.

Mr. SKILLINGS: A kid was throwing rocks at me. And I picked a piece of cardboard up to shield myself, and one went over and hit me in the head. I ran in the - to the house crying, get my sister, had her PJs on...

Ms. SKILLINGS: And I just said, who? And he said his name. And then I went and found him. I came outside and I saw him running up the street, so I chased him. And then I cornered him into a fence and I slapped him. He was scared. He was like in tears. My face I'm sure was beet-red, and I was like gritting my teeth. I'm like, just touch him again, and I'll punch you right in your mouth.

Mr. SKILLINGS: Well, I'm just glad to have somebody like that, even though she can clobber me if she wants to.

Ms. SKILLINGS: Yeah, I was really mad because nobody can beat up my brother except me. When we got back from Applebys, we came upstairs. And Chanelle and I walked down to the trampoline.

Want to get on Andrew?

Mr. SKILLINGS: If you won't throw me on it now.

Ms. SKILLINGS: No, no, honey. I wasn't just picking on you...

Sometimes if I get really frustrated, I just wish I could change everything - sell him to the zoo and buy new parents.

Mr. SKILLINGS: (Unintelligible)

Ms. SKILLINGS: But then the times when I'm actually appreciating things and I'm not in the moment when I'm steaming mad, I really do appreciate what I have.

He's laughing and he's trying to hold it in.

I don't think I'd change anything, because this is what I'm used to, and this is my life. And Andrew wouldn't be like the Andrew I know and love if he was different because autism is his whole personality.

Mr. SKILLINGS: I like Marissa. She's hot, and she's the best sister ever. You're the best sister ever and I love you, and I hope nothing happens to you, and I'd give my life for you.

Ms. SKILLINGS: No, you wouldn't.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SKILLINGS: I would, now don't kill me.



(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: Our story was produced by Erin Davis at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. You can see photographs of Marissa and Andrew Skillings at

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