Home > In Their Own Words > In Their Own Words – Before It Had a Name

In Their Own Words – Before It Had a Name

Long before it had a name, long before there was any type of research, long before there was acceptance by society, long before there were resources for families and the children, my youngest brother had a form of autism. This was back in the early 60’s. No one had a name for it so he was labeled emotionally immature. Now it is called Asperger Syndrome.  He read books (Homer), newspapers, magazines and retained what he read at the age of two. He was doing simple arithmetic by three and none of this was taught to him. But ask him a question or his opinion on something and he could not communicate what he wanted to say. That lasted all through his lifetime. He could not fit in socially. He had a brilliant mind but could not share that with people. It wasn’t that he was emotionally immature; he just didn’t know any better.  He was family-oriented. He cared about people in general.

A couple of weeks ago we were looking at old family movies and there was one of him as a baby about a year old. I did notice something different but due to  the lack of  research back then no one picked up on it. When he would go into his trance his eyes would get this look and he would get a slight grin on his face and no one could reach him abruptly. You had to do it gently and calmly, otherwise he would jump and get excited. In the movie he was sitting on somebody’s lap and he started that stare. Little did we know at that time what was going on.

My brother eventually attended a special education school and a sheltered workshop where he thrived. It was a great place for him. He went to companies all over the city of Pittsburgh and even traveled when other people would not walk three feet out their door. Unfortunately, for my family and the world, my brother passed away three years ago from cancer.

He taught us in those 15 months how to go through a painful and grueling treatment plan with a positive attitude. He taught us how to die. He never gave the nurses, doctors, and aides one second of problems. He handled every treatment, test and surgery like “this is what we have to do to get it, so lets get it done.” I would explain what each procedure was and he would be fine with it.

If only all patients could be like the man who was diagnosed with a mental disorder not yet named when he was born, lived long enough for it to be identified and then proved to the world, that when it truly counts, people with forms of autism can and are the strongest people we have. My brother Jim was 43 when he died.

This “In Their Own Words” essay is by Peg Bittner, of South Park, Penn.

If you have a story you wish to share about your personal experience with autism, please send it to editors@autismspeaks.org. Autism Speaks reserves the right to edit contributions for space, style and content. Because of the volume of submissions, not all can be published on the site.

  1. Katie Wright
    June 10, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    Peg, This is a beautiful tribute to your brother.

  2. Wendy F.
    June 11, 2010 at 5:36 am

    Such a touching story. People with Autism Spectrum Disorder’s are the Angels of our world.

    • June 16, 2010 at 12:23 pm

      i agree with you wendy f,i have two wonderful sons and i always wanted a little girl,my own dad died of cancer nine years ago,and he knew this,i believe that my dad sent my little girl to me ,she is five years old,and she is authistic,and i tell her that she is my angelx

  3. Shanith
    June 11, 2010 at 7:46 am

    What a very touching story. I have a son with Asperger’s who is 15. It is hard to believe that I only got the diagnosis 2 years ago even though I always suspected he was special. Before this I never heard of the condition. But I have found so much support within this time. I hope it will continue.

  4. Barbara Pons
    June 11, 2010 at 8:19 am

    OMG….what a story. Jim sounds like a beautiful man! It is so sad that he had such a tough life but he had a loving family for support. Thanks for sharing your story.

  5. Renee
    June 11, 2010 at 9:16 am

    this was a lovely story about the love you shared with your brother. my son has aspergers and i only hope people can be as understanding. he is a delightful person who has many great talents but also some struggles. thanks for sharing your story with us.

  6. p. mceneaney
    June 11, 2010 at 9:56 am

    Really, such a wonderful tribute to your brother. Thank you for sharing that with everyone.

  7. yasmine's mom
    June 11, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    Thank you for the beautiful story!Many strangers can not see beyond our struggles and realize austics are gifted.

  8. June 11, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    Peg,
    So wonderful of you to share your story with us. Our family members with special needs truly have a wonderful way of showing us how to cope in very difficult situations. I’m sorry that you recently lost your brother, but he lives on in you.

  9. June 11, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    Aspergers is not a curse, it is a blessing in many ways.

  10. Sharon
    June 12, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    This was a beautiful story. My little grandson has Asperger Syndrome also. We found out when he was 5 years old. He is now ten. He is so smart. A very loving child. He does not like crowds. He is Nana’s and Papaw’s heart. Your story touched my heart. God Bless your family.

  11. Donald Pierce
    June 12, 2010 at 8:35 pm

    Peg what a wonderful story and tribute to your brother Jim. I’ve attended special olympic games and the one thing I noticed most about special needs people is the love they have for one another. Then it dawned on me special needs people have always in the past refered to as retards(which name I’ve grown to hate) but in reality special needs people don’t have the greed,hate,predjudices that our so-called normal world people have come to know so just think of a world with the practices of our special angels how beautiful this world would be.

  12. Siobhan Phoenix
    June 12, 2010 at 11:26 pm

    I grew up during the 7o0’s and 80’s – and had/have many of the symptoms of Asperger’s… it wasn’t until m,y son was diagnosed and did a family history that he told me that my symptoms didn’t match ADD (like my mother was told back in 1982), but Asperger’s/PDD.

    I went through hell as a kid, never fit in, didn’t know how to interact, people for the most part liked me, but they thought I was “weird”. I excelled at things like music, and math (until I suffered a head injury), and as an adult, I picked up on computer sciuence like it was an inborn instinct.

    I wish they knew back then what it was… I’d have had services to help me get on, and I wouldn;t have gone through the hell I went through, but it made the woman I am today…… and many people respect me – even if they think I am weird (my best friend has a kid with Asperger’s too, and she laughs at my idiosyncrasies…)

    -Trish

  13. mariam
    June 14, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    My son Tony has Asperger’s Syndrome, He’s 13, A very adorable boy, loving, caring, loves animals — but is a tough one!!!! Very unpredictable, has a hard time coping in school mostly, panics easily, we go through a lot with him on a daily basis, you never know what to expect. He loves Monster trucks, and could tell stories about every one, and who drives them etc. (for hours). Gotta love him forever, take care of him always!!! Guide him in the right direction always!!!

  14. Sue
    June 16, 2010 at 11:11 am

    It is because of people just like your brother that we have great medicines, space programs and the internet!

  15. Fran
    June 16, 2010 at 11:33 am

    What a wonderful man your brother was. You have great memories to always cherrish. My son has autism and I always describe him as my families gift. He has taught us so much – unconditional love, tolerance, patience, understanding. He’s precious to us.

  16. kimijo
    June 16, 2010 at 11:41 am

    Peg, I’m so sorry, my heart goes out to you. I too lost a brother, so I know your pain. Infact I have a son who bears name who has Aspergers, so I totally know what you’re talking about. It’s such a shame that the world can’t see and value our family members who have autism like we do, the world would be a much better place if society didn’t expect everyone to fit in the same box. Thanks for sharing your story.

  17. Billy Lynn Hale
    June 16, 2010 at 11:44 am

    I want to thank you for your story, my 23 year old son has Asperger Syndrome. Your brother was lucky to have a family that loved him. It took until my son was about 12 to find out just what he had. He also is Bi-Polar. It is good to hear how much a family loved this special person. God Bless you!

  18. Ellen
    June 16, 2010 at 11:45 am

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. My son is 10 years old and has a younger borther and sister. I hope one day that they also will grow in the understanding of how special their brother is and strong. I believe that God sends us angels in our lives and we have been lucky enough to be able to spend our life with ours. God Bless you!

  19. June 16, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    such a lovely story,you must be so proud,of him,i have a little girl with autism and she is the love of my lifex

  20. June 16, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    There is so much more research and information than there was years ago. Thanks for sharing your brother’s story.
    Brain Balance Centers
    Effective Education For Mild to Moderate Autism

  21. Isabel
    June 16, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    What an inspiring message story that I’m sure will enlighten the rest of us who have a loved one on the spectrum. Even the people that don’t.

  22. Sarah Evans
    June 16, 2010 at 8:05 pm

    That was really beautiful. If only everyone felt the way you did autism would be seen for the blessing it can be and not as a disease or curse. They’re just diffrent NOT bad! (Mother of 2 boys with aspergers, 1 with pddnos, 1 autistic , and a baby boy who’s “normally developing” (so far) )

  23. kim griffiths
    June 16, 2010 at 8:20 pm

    I LIVE IN UK,AND WE ARE SO BEHIND ITS UN TRUE,I HAVE A FAMILY MEMBER WITH ASPERGERS WHO IS NOW 26YR OLD.HE IS AT HOME 24/7 AND WE CARE FOR HIM,HE LOOKS NORMAL ,AND COS HE IS A GENIUS CAN ACT TOTAL NORMAL FOR SHORT PERIODS.WE HAVE NO DOCTOR NOW,COS THERE IS NO ONE IN NOTTINGHAMSHIRE WHO UNDERSTANDS HIS CONDITION.THEY HAVE PUT HIM ON SO MUVH MEDICATION YOU WUD NOT BELIEVE,AND NONE OF IT TOUCHES HIM,ONLY OPIATE BASED WORKS,AND THEY WONT GIVE IT HIM,SO WE HAVE BEEN FORCED TO GET IT OUR SELVES, AGAINST THE LAW….CRAZY!BUT WEN HE HAS IT HES AMAZIN,HE CAN TALK AND SHARE HIS AMAZIN MIND AND THORTS,FINE ME ON FB ITS EASY TO TALK ON THATS

  24. Sarah K
    June 16, 2010 at 11:31 pm

    Thanks for sharing- it is amazing how much people who are supposedly emotionally immature can teach us how to truly appreciate life and love our family.

  25. Donna Y
    June 17, 2010 at 8:58 am

    I am choked up. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful heartfelt story with us. From your words it is easy to see how proud of your brother you are. My 7 y.o. son has aspergers. Stories like yours gives me hope and strength to get thru those hard days. thanks

  26. Ashlynn
    June 17, 2010 at 10:11 am

    I am fifteen, and I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at the age of fourteen. I must say that the early years of my life, when our family had not yet heard of such a thing, greatly related to this story.

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