Why My Brother is My Greatest Teacher
Updated: Mar 23
This Autism Acceptance Month, the Mission Society is featuring a series of conversations about how we can evolve our education system to work for all students. Today, Molly Murphy is speaking from the sibling perspective, and sharing how her most valuable lessons have come from living life alongside her brother.
I have yet to meet anyone as socially fearless, welcoming, and creative as my brother Jonathan. Few have his ability to tell an engaging story off the cuff, or quickly turn a stranger into a friend. He wears his passions on his sleeve and listens to others with abundant curiosity. No one makes me laugh as much as he does, with a spirit of play and imagination that brightens my days. It’s truly astounding to watch him move through the world and leave each room he enters more vibrant and alive than it was before he arrived.
When people experience Jonathan’s infectious presence, they are often surprised to learn that he's autistic. I never understood the shock when we were younger, but now I see how regularly autism is associated with disconnection. The stereotype doesn’t mesh with my experience as Jonathan’s sister. Our time as kids pretending to set off on voyages to space and our many creative collaborations as adults have been filled with wonder – and a bond that’s unmatched elsewhere in my life. The communities of people who saw beyond the harmful stereotypes and embraced Jonathan for who he is helped him develop his confidence, and had the opportunity to experience his exceptional voice.
After struggling in a traditional education setting, Jonathan attended a new school that reinvented the classroom. Educators championed each student’s way of completing assignments and engaging with peers, which allowed Jonathan to thrive. At home, my parents reinforced the idea that Jonathan’s story was his own to tell in the way he communicated best, lighting him up by leaning into his many strengths and interests. He found his way into theater, where his talent flourished and he had the opportunity to form lasting friendships. For Jonathan, these were the turning points that demonstrated to him that he could find success through acceptance. And these powerful lessons were ones he would go on to embody and share with others.
Throughout my life, my brother has been my greatest teacher, showing me what it means to find connection, joy, and acceptance. By following his example, I’ve learned how to be courageously open to the world and the people around me, show up as myself unapologetically, and lead each day with love.
This indescribable magic is not hindered by, but born from Jonathan’s neurodiversity. It’s because of Jonathan that I understand the power of new perspectives, and the remarkable opportunities that come from having diverse voices in a room. Through our relationship, I discovered how vital it is to write from a place of empathy and fairness, which has built the foundations of my career. He has a profound knowledge of what it means to be different, and knows that there is incredible value in the many ways people show up in their communities, at work, in school, and with loved ones. His is a universe of possibility where we can all come as we are and feel welcome.
I am unbelievably fortunate to be Jonathan's sister and to learn from him every day. There is nothing more enriching, inspiring, or simply fun than being close to someone who celebrates what makes us different. What a gift it is to have such an amazing teacher, and a constant reminder that it's our uniqueness that makes our lives beautiful.