My Brother is Autistic?!

Autism Awareness

Autism Awareness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

April is Autism Awareness Month.  I don’t imagine there are a lot of people who don’t know what Autism is. Well, stereotypical Autism, anyway–not speaking or making eye contact, hand flapping, head banging, a penchant for numbers, and a nearly debilitating dependence on schedules.  While these traits are true for a lot of Autistic children, they’re not for all of them.  I think that’s why Autism Awareness Month is important.  People need to be aware that Autism is not a cut and dried diagnosis.  It’s a diagnosis based on symptoms and every child presents with different symptoms of varying degrees.  (See Autism Spectrum Disorder.)

Sometimes, the symptoms are so mild, they are missed by the general public and even some doctors (my experience with that here .) Sometimes, the symptoms are so mild, they are missed by the child’s own family members.

My son is Autistic, but very high-functioning.  He’s been medication and therapy free for years, is mainstreamed into a regular classroom, and was even tested for Advanced Placement at school.  Now that he’s almost 12, I’ve noticed some of his autistic behaviors returning, probably because of the onset of puberty.  While making dinner the other night, I casually mentioned to him that I noticed he was stimming lately and asked him if he thought he needed to go back to the doctor.

My 8-year-old daughter Molly, who was coloring at the kitchen table, perked up her ears at the word, “doctor.”  (Traumatized by her recent bouts with strep, no doubt.)  “Why would he have to go to the doctor?  What’s wrong with him?”

Mikey looked at her in his usual “oh my gosh you are such an idiot” way and said, “I have autism.  Duh.” and rolled his eyes.

Molly’s eyes got really big.  “Mikey is Autistic?!”

Mikey rolled his eyes again and shook his head.

I told her, “Yes, your brother is autistic.”

She was flummoxed.  “I did NOT know that.”  She sat there, wide-eyed, and I could almost hear the wheels turning inside her head.

My wheels were turning, too.  How could she not know that?  It’s not like it’s a secret.  I worried if maybe I didn’t talk about it.  Like I was ashamed or indifferent about it.

Molly had an ah-ha moment.  “Is that why Mikey runs funny?  And talks a lot?”

I opened my mouth to tell her to not be so mean, but Mikey beat me to it.  “Yes!” he said in his slghtly-offended-it’s-the-truth-but-you-didn’t-have-to-say-that voice.  Then, “Jeez,” quietly, in the “you are an idiot” voice.

The next day, Molly informed me, while I was making dinner (again) that she’d been watching Mikey.  “I think I see that Mikey’s autistic now.  I just never noticed before.”

Mikey, who was in the kitchen with us, rolled his eyes, and in his perfect tone that conveys contempt and incredulity with the ignorance of the world, or, in this case, his sister, said “YOU are really unobservant.”

And that’s what Autism Awareness Month is about.  Being more observant.  Recognizing Autistic behaviors when you see them.  Realizing that the “weird” kid in your class or at the park with your child has a very good reason for mumbling to himself or walking the perimeter of the playground.  Abstaining from offering unwanted and unwarranted advice on how to discipline a child to a mom whose child is having a full-blown meltdown in the Walmart aisle over what kind of cookies she put in her cart.  Listening politely as a kid goes on and on about airplanes or vacuüm cleaner parts.  Ridding yourself of any preconceived notions of what Autism is, and, instead, being aware of what it looks like.

Faces of Autism via deviantart.com

Photo courtesy of Aery-La-Bel at deviantart.com

For more information about Autism Spectrum Disorders, to become an Advocate, or to find ways you can raise money for Autism research, visit www.autismspeaks.org.

Related Posts
A Child’s Wish
The ABCs of Autism
A Good Kid Isn’t Hard To Find
What Do I Know?  I’m Only His Mother

read to be read at yeahwrite.me

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52 thoughts on “My Brother is Autistic?!

  1. Well done Erin. Job well done that it had never dawned on Molly – indicates just how you have managed to provide (not the right word) a normal life. I know Mikey is high-functioning, but even so, you and your husband have done a sterling job as parents.

    • “Normal” is close enough. Yeah, I was worried about it and then I felt proud. And then I realized, she just thought he was weird. As his sister, she’s supposed to think that, though. So I’m back to proud. She’s treating him like her other “normal” (definitely not the right word) brothers. 🙂

  2. My brother-in-law, Logan, is autistic, but his is much more severe than Mikey’s, it sounds like. I don’t always know what to say or do around him, partly because we don’t see Brandon’s brothers very often, but I always make sure to say hello and ask how he’s doing whenever I have the opportunity.

    I know these people are so very intelligent behind all the hardships, but I hope that Logan notices I don’t really socialize with the rest of the family a lot either – that I’m not singling him out, I’m just a quiet person in general anyway.

  3. Great post, Erin.

    One more thing, though: Autism is NOT caused by vaccines — the “science” leading to that pronouncement by Dr. Andrew Wakefield was fraud — he was working for plaintiff’s lawyers suing vaccine manufacturers. His license to practice medicine was revoked.

    • I’ve never been on the vaccine bandwagon. I can understand the jump to that conclusion as the signs of Autism become apparent at the age when all those vaccines are administered–an unfortunate coincidence. Of course Autism isn’t noticed until age 3, when all kids should be “caught up” as far as verbal skills go. Also, don’t we all want somebody or something to blame? Vaccines are an easy target. Now that the suspicious vaccine has been changed and autism is still on the rise, I hope we can move on to finding the real cause. Oh, and vaccinating all our children so eradicated diseases don’t make a comeback.

      • It didn’t sound like you were in that group, and yes, I agree, so often (well, always) we want to find someone to blame. I just thought I’d add my 2 cents! I’ve been going to write about folks who don’t vaccinate which is just so short-sighted, but I haven’t gotten around to it. Someday!

        I’m so glad I found your blog — it has an interesting mix of stuff!

  4. sounds like you did a great job of raising your son so far, if he is high-functioning, etc. Keep at it, momfog and his sibliings will appreciate him too.

    You’re a great mom in this area.

    • Thank you, Jean. I’m not sure if any siblings appreciate each other when they’re young but I expect that will come with maturity. After the “he’s touching me!” and “he’s looking at me!” stage has passed, of course.

  5. As a one A+ kid mom to another … that is a truely funny story. I think you should count it all joy that she had to be made to see her brother was autistic. God is good and has blessed us both with these precious gifts.

    I agree on all points with you about awareness. 😀

  6. One of my the things that makes me giggle at my high functioning niece: I will use a figure of speech, and she will say something like “What are you talking about?…Wait. I get it. You are using an idiom.” ::rolls her eyes at me::

    • Ha! My son said something similar the other day. I said something sarcastic (imagine that) and he said, “Gotta love sarcasm. It’s a useful literary device.” I can’t tell you how relieved I am that he recognizes and appreciates sarcasm when he hears it. That’s very important in this household.

  7. Pingback: Sometimes we just don’t fit « The Holland's Home

    • Yes it would. Although, difference is what makes the world interesting. Compassion, empathy, and appreciation for those differences is what we need to work on.

    • Thank you for returning the visit. I’m glad you enjoyed it and I’m glad you gained a little understanding. That’s what Autism Awareness Month is all about!

  8. We all are cognisant of stereotypes and while they’re a convenient starting point, you are right, there is so much more, especially when it comes to the whole spectrum of autistic difficulties. I try to be sensitive to children’s causes of behaviours and sympathetic to parents whenever or not I know for sure that there is a label for it. 🙂

    • It’s not easy. I’ve often thought, “what a brat,” or “nice parenting,” when I see a kid throwing a fit in a grocery store or wherever. While it’s true there are spoiled brats, it’s unfair to jump to that conclusion, especially when I don’t know these people. Yet, I do it, and I should know better.

  9. I liked the dialogue and how you made sure we got the inflections. Plus the whole thing about one sibling either not getting it or forgetting about a problem that another sibling rings so true and is so ironic especially when we, as moms, know how much space it (the problem) takes up in our heads.

    • Moms are so preoccupied with every little thing, it’s hard to imagine those around us don’t think about the same things or notice them at all. It’s the mom burden, I guess.

  10. I am interested in learning more about the signs of autism. My son is 4 1/2 and for a long time, my husband and I wondered about him, cause he acted different from other children I had cared for in the past.
    I read a few of your posts on the topic and I can identify with the hand flapping, repeating the same sentence a million times, talking to himself, not playing well with others, and meltdowns over things I never thought possible, like having a terror of vomiting, either himself or hearing someone else (which he is slowly outgrowing), and a recent episode at a mall over having to take an elevator. He was never scared of them before, so I was unprepared for him to scream so loud I’m sure the whole mall heard him, try to run and bite me. I had to hold him down and get him to tell me what the problem was, which took all my strength and patience. Thankfully, my 3 year old was able to hold on to the toddler and keep her from running off while I calmed Logan down.
    I live in India and here autism is not widely recognized or treated. We only came to suspect it when my husband took a job at a preschool and they had a seminar about autism. Then things started making sense, but we still haven’t found someone who can make a proper diagnosis.

    • Mercy, I obviously can’t diagnose autism, but it sounds like you have reason for concern. I honestly don’t know what to tell you since I’m not familiar with India’s healthcare or what you have access to, but can your husband maybe find out something through his preschool contacts? Surely, someone will know where you can take your son to get evaluated.

      You can check out some sites on the web that might be able to help you. I’d start with http://www.autismspeaks.org/ and this is a site I found, specific to India. http://www.autism-india.org/afa_otherlinks.html

      I wish I knew how to better help you. If you have any questions or just want to vent, don’t hesitate to contact me through my contact form. I would really like to hear back if you get him tested. Good luck!

  11. What a great piece. I also see the beauty in how you manage your family that you daughter did not see any “specialness.” You definitely spotlighted a unique angle for Awareness Month. Ellen

    • Thanks Ellen. I know that some might consider moms of high-functioning and Asperger’s kids lucky. And we are, BUT. Sometimes, it’s harder to get help when your child isn’t “autistic enough.” I’ve been to a doctor that insisted my son was misdiagnosed and was most likely depressed. (See here for THAT fiasco.) I wouldn’t say my daughter didn’t notice his “specialness.” She just thought he was weird. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but other kids don’t always get weird. An actual and apparent disability and it’s more likely they won’t label him and be unkind. That’s what concerns me. Why does motherhood have to be so hard? 😦

      Say hi to Erin for me. I’ve missed you guys on the Twitter. So busy lately. *sigh*

    • Thanks, Victoria. Mikey has a strong grasp on vocabulary (thanks to his excellent memorization skills) and uses a lot of big words. He’s not always using them in exactly the right way because he doesn’t understand nuance, but his speech is impressive, nevertheless.

  12. Ha, I think it’s awesome that she didn’t realize that. It shows you’re not shoving the label down anyone’s throat

  13. While I think it’s great to raise awareness for all diseases (especially those affecting our children), you’ve got to admire how some kids just don’t care to notice others’ differences.
    The world would be a better place if adults could see the people of this world like your daughter sees her brother.

  14. I am friends with a few parents with autistic children and I always learn something new about it. My one friend has two autisitic children, one son who is severely so and its truly awe inspiring learning about all the tasks she does on a day to day basis for them. She is a fantastic mother.

    I am truly blown away by her and any mother facing such a diagnosis for their children.
    thanks for sharing your story.

  15. This is such an informative, eye-opening post. I am so glad that you shared it. There is something innocent and hopeful about the fact that your daughter did not see her brother as a label, and just as her brother.

  16. FIST PUMP! AWesome post. I have people close to me raising an autistic son and there is so much grim news out there. Thank you for the information and inspiration. Go you!

  17. YES! My almost 10 year old son has a chromosomal disorder that presents with a lot of autistic characteristics. It’s amazing to me how people have written him off as weird or strange and how many adults just avoid him. And what is normal anyway? I don’t know anyone who is totally normal. What a boring world it would be if we were all the same!

  18. Fantastic post. I only recently learned about autism while working on my teaching credential. What impressed me the most was how much that even the worst afflicted can improve if provided the right services. What scares me is that with budgets getting cut everywhere, obtaining the necessary help is becoming more difficult.

  19. Thank you so much for educating those of us who aren\’t as \”in the know.\” I have a friend whose 6 year old daughter is on the opposite end of the spectrum from your son. SHe gets a lot of wonderful therapy and fortunately has come a long way, but still acts about half her age and has a lot of tantrums, etc…

    This is a touching story, and I loved the details of the interactions between the siblings, too…

  20. Great post. As a former public school teacher, I am fascinated with autism and its many forms and presentations. You’ll probably think me silly for even asking this, but have you ever seen the movie “Temple Grandin”? I love how they illustrated what it might be like to see the world through an autistic lens.

    The conversation between you and your kids was classic. I loved it.

  21. this is fantastic. I love Mikey’s responses to his sister…also I think it’s wonderful that his diagnosis has not taken over his life to the point of he is just a big brother in her mind.

  22. i love that your daughter had no clue, accepted that the differences were just part of him, but also? i loved that he knew those things too, but clearly don’t let them define him.

  23. I think that the more we talk about all medical issues for what they are – medical issues, not a defect in humans – the more we can all collectively understand and appreciate others. People are people, all of us different. Some of us “have something” but it doesn’t define or make us less than others. We need to remove the stigmas. I also think both of your kids sound great!

  24. I love the sibling interactions & have to say that on some level, judging from what Mikey is saying that pretty much all pre-teens may exhibit behaviors that put them on the spectrum. What I love here is the Mike has become an advocate for himself, which he could have only learned to do from you – his upbringing has given him wonderful strength (and a great use of sarcasm!)

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