Hey, I've missed seeing you like I used to. We haven't seen each other in a few months, but we'll head down to Indianapolis soon. I'll be able to talk to you and ask you how you've been doing, just like I have always. I know that with your autism you won't and haven't be able to understand me, but just let me tell you what a great example and cousin you've been for me.
My mom and dad have always told my brothers and I to, "be nice to Tony," and to, "realize he's different." Since you are the same age as my slightly-younger brother, I would always wonder why you two were never mentally on the same page. I sometimes thought that my brother was just super smart, but now I realize it was just the autism separating you two.
You don't talk using words much - English that is. You have your own language . . . and it always brings a smile to my face. Your noises and imaginary words help me open my eyes to a world beyond society. You don't acknowledge other people much, but that isn't a big deal. We can all see and talk with you, and not hearing a response isn't upsetting anymore.
I used to feel bad for you, and think you were some sort of lost cause. You couldn't talk to me, and I thought it was because you didn't like me. I would always ask my mom why you hated me and didn't want to play with me. She and all the other adults would say the same thing, "Tony doesn't talk or play much; go play with your other cousins." Something about that bothered me. Why couldn't I play with you? Why were you "different"?
It wasn't until I was about seven years old when I realized what autism meant. You weren't ever going to talk to me, and the idea still sends a pang of sadness to my heart. You might not ever be able to understand me when I say "hi," but I still find myself doing greeting you. Something about completely ignoring you and giving up on your mental growth is bothersome. You are still a human being - and you still deserve to be treated like one.
Your autism went from moderate to severe as we aged up. While us other kids in the family were maturing into preteens, you were slowly progressing backwards. Making eye-contact because a struggle, and you stopped speaking English words at all. The other cousins would say that you were weird. I felt angry whenever they would say this, and I remember one time I actually yelled at someone for saying it.
"You do know he is a human being like us too, right? Don't you think he has feelings and thoughts? I don't know what's worse, him being 'weird' or you being a stuck up brat."
I ended up getting a time out, but it was worth it to me. Being a hard-headed ten-year-old wasn't something to be proud of, but the fact that I had stopped their bullying was. I knew that I had done the right thing by sticking up for you.
Like I mentioned before, I would always find myself hanging out with you more than the others. I liked the way you would always listen to me when I had something to say. You might not have ever responded back, but somehow I have always felt that you really are acknowledging what I have to say.
You have made such a difference in my life, Tony. I am not afraid to stand up for those being picked on, and I have learned what it's like to know someone with "special needs." To tell you the truth, it doesn't even seem like you are mentally handicapped. You might be labeled "Special", but that isn't the only unique thing about you. Your companionship throughout the years, even if it has been somewhat nonverbal, has stayed with me and will continue to do so. Though sadly, you won't ever be able to read this or understand what I am saying, I know that you will someday know how I feel. Though you might not be able to hug me back or even say "hi", I know that you are not only my cousin, but my friend.