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Viral video shows sweet bond between teen who has autism and his loving little brother

Siblings Cooper and Sawyer Swenson are each other's "person," according to their mom.
/ Source: TODAY

A video showing the bond between a teenager with autism and his younger brother has people in tears.

In the now-viral Instagram reel, Cooper, who is 13 and nonverbal, is practicing saying his brother Sawyer’s name. Sawyer, 11, is the ultimate hype man and encourages Cooper with praise — "Yeah! Good job!" — and lots of hugs. When Cooper uses American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate that he “loves” Sawyer, Sawyer’s face lights up. 

“Awww, I love you too, buddy,” Sawyer replies. He then rests his head on Cooper’s shoulder.

Cooper and Sawyer’s mom, Kate Swenson, says the boys have come a long way. 

“For the first five years of Cooper’s life, he didn’t acknowledge Sawyer,” Swenson tells “Sawyer would ask, ‘Why doesn’t Cooper love me? Why won’t he play with me?’”

Then something unexpected happened. In 2019, the Swenson family moved into a new home in Minnesota, and Cooper insisted on sleeping in Sawyer’s room.

“That’s when their relationship started to grow,” Swenson shares. “It didn’t look like the one I had with my sister, where you know, we had to be told to be quiet. It was just a place of comfort. They comforted each other and became each other’s person.” 

Swenson remembers the first time that Cooper said Sawyer’s name without any prompting. 

“Sawyer is a pretty stoic guy, and he cried,” Swenson says. “He knows it’s hard for Cooper to talk — his mouth doesn’t cooperate. So that celebration you see in the video, that’s real. Sawyer is so proud.”

Swenson, who wrote "Forever Boy," a memoir about raising a child with autism, says Cooper communicates with "some" ASL, a speech device and via text message. He also uses movie and TV scenes to express himself. For example, when Cooper isn't feeling well, he'll play an episode of "Daniel Tiger" in which Daniel goes to the doctor.

"He's doing things that I never believed possible. He's got two friends, they also have disabilities, and they're called the Three Amigos," Swenson says. "He rides therapeutic horses, which blows my mind. Day-to-day things, too, like he can get his own snack. He can put his shoes on, he can fasten his seatbelt. These are things we weren't sure would be possible."

Swenson says the biggest game-changer was giving Cooper a cell phone for Christmas.

"We weren't sure what that would look like for a nonverbal person, but it's been incredible. He'll text us like 100 words — and buried in between will be something like, 'Grandma home in 20 days.' He let me know he wants to ride the bullet train in Japan," Swenson says. "All a parent like me ever wants is a glimpse inside their child's secret world — and we're getting it now."

Meanwhile, comments continue to pour in on Swenson's Instagram video, which has been seen more than 1.3 million times by publish time.

"Omg I’m crying!!!! I absolutely love love LOVE you sharing Kate! You have no idea how much hope you bring to me!" one person wrote.

Added another, "Oh my heart. this made me so emotional. Their bond and relationship is so beautiful."