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'I love you too, buddy': Why two brothers' heartwarming exchange resonates on social media

For quite a while, Kate Swenson wondered how her oldest son, Cooper, would interact with his family.

Cooper has autism and was previously nonverbal. Now, at 13 years old, he's as close as ever with his brother, Sawyer.

In 2022, their mother captured a sweet moment between the siblings when Cooper communicated his love for Sawyer, telling him he loves him. Swenson posted the video on Instagram on .

Sawyer replies “I love you too, buddy,” before reaching out for a heartwarming hug.

The video has reached at least 1.6 million people, with some commenters noting how it resonated with their own families.

"My son cares for his diagnosed sister in this way and it is extraordinary to watch their connection," Instagram user @cheryldispoto said. "It is an incredible gift to experience. Pure joy."

"New to your page, immediately in love with your beautiful family," reads another comment from @emilyweebz. "Cooper is a light to watch, and seeing your other son interact with him reminds me so much of my two boys."

Read more inspiring news:She turned 100 on leap day, but it's only her 25th birthday. Meet Mary Lea Forsythe.

Cooper and Sawyer's relationship has 'grown into the most beautiful thing'

Swenson has four children altogether. Cooper is the oldest at 13, Sawyer is 11 and her other two children are 5 and 2 years old.

Sibling relationships can look a bit different when raising children diagnosed with autism alongside children who don't have autism, said Swenson, who lives in Woodbury, Minnesota, about 10 miles east of Saint Paul.

She recalls having to teach Sawyer how to communicate with his brother. The children didn’t interact much initially, but when Cooper was 6 and Sawyer was 4, things changed.

They began practicing everything, including playing, saying “Hi” and more. They worked hard to include Sawyer in Cooper’s life, she said.

“It has grown into the most beautiful thing,” their mother said. “It looks different than a typical sibling relationship but it's full of loyalty and … fierce protection.”

Sawyer and Cooper Swenson, brothers from Woodbury, Minnesota.

‘I don't want any mom to ever feel as alone as I did’

Cooper’s mother started her blog, before doctors diagnosed him.

“My friends’ kids, my nieces and nephews, were all speaking,” she recalled. “They were all developing neuro-typically and my firstborn wasn't … so I just started writing.”

She eventually started Facebook and Instagram pages, which allowed her to find families like her own. Her social media presence began to grow and now, she has 222,000 followers on and 1 million followers on .

As time progressed, she set out to help other moms like herself, she said. She wants to educate people about autism.

Cooper was diagnosed with autism when he was 3½ years old, although he could’ve been diagnosed much earlier, his mother said.

“There's more kids to be diagnosed than there are doctors and clinics, so we had to wait quite some time,” said Swenson, who has her experience raising Cooper and is working on another book with two other mothers. 

Because of his diagnosis, Cooper has to practice things like waiting, walking, listening and sitting. In many ways, the world doesn't make sense to him, she said. 

It can be isolating raising a child who is autistic, his mother said.

“I didn't have anyone when we left his diagnosis appointment,” she said. “We didn't know anyone. We weren't able to go to the parks. We weren't able to start public school. We weren't able to do all the things that so many of us take for granted. Our world just got really small.”

She knows firsthand how the world sees people who are autistic, she said. Cooper has grown and now stands at about 5-foot-6. He is almost the same height as his mom, so when they go out, they turn heads.

“I don't want any mom to ever feel as alone as I did,” she said. “I like to think that by sharing, I am softening the world in a way.”

Cooper Swenson (left) with his brother, Sawyer (right).

How teenager communicates with loved ones

In addition to using his voice like he did in the viral video with his brother, Cooper also uses sign language, a speech device, sounds, gestures, and even movie scenes. 

“Like on my birthday, it'll be like Dora singing ‘Happy Birthday’ or if we go to the doctor, it's Daniel Tiger getting his ears looked at,” his mother said.

He even has a cell phone he uses to communicate now. 

When he got his phone, his mother sat next to him and used his phone to send herself a message saying “Hi Mom.” She showed him her phone so he’d know the message went to her phone. She then sent him a photo back and they continued to exchange messages.

“Now, it’s like ‘Hi Mom,’” she said. “It’ll be all kinds of words like Amtrak, Diesel train, Galvanized Radiator Museum, dolphins, whales. I mean, the things that he can spell, I had no idea. I always tried to presume competence but I had no idea … all the knowledge he had in his mind.”

Cooper’s progress has been a dream to witness because his mother was initially told he would never be able to read or write, she said.

“You're looking at this perfect 5-year-old and you're told they'll never be able to read,” she said. “They'll never be able to type. I mean, it's just crushing. It's just a series of these crushing things that happen as we go.”

His first word was “Mom” and his second word was “Sawyer,” Swenson said. 

She added that Cooper can only make a limited number of sounds. He can’t make sounds that require him to touch his tongue to the roof of his mouth. When he speaks, it’s like he’s “plucking each letter out of the sky.”

When he says “Mom,” for example, it sounds like “Mmm-ahh-Mmm.”

Minnesota brothers Cooper and Sawyer Swenson.

Documenting 'a beautiful life'

Cooper’s mom said he is “a very smart, silly, mysterious guy” who loves to be social and enjoys parties.

“That's his favorite thing, which can be contrary to the typical autism that we think of,” she said. “He loves a Fourth of July party with 40 people and chaos amok.” 

Kate and Jamie Swenson with their children Cooper (13), Sawyer (11), Harbor (5), and Wynnie (2).

He plays Miracle League Baseball, rides therapeutic horses and plans to start bowling soon too. He has two friends he sometimes has playdates with, she said.

She said she shares videos like the one featuring Cooper and Sawyer to give people hope because when Cooper was diagnosed, it was presented as if he would live a very sad life. That’s not the life Cooper is living though.

“Cooper has a beautiful life,” Swenson said. “He is loved and treasured and we're so lucky to have him … These kids are lifelong learners. I wonder what it’s going to look like when Cooper’s 20. I can’t imagine.”

Keep up with Cooper and his family at , or .

Saleen Martin is a reporter on ˽ýӳ's NOW team. She is from Norfolk, Virginia – the 757. Follow her on Twitter at or email her atsdmartin@usatoday.com.

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