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.
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