“A Regular Guy: Growing Up With Autism” – A Sister’s Take
Two Autism Speaks employees, Ali Dyer and Kerry Magro, recently read Laura Shumaker’s book, “A Regular Guy: Growing up with Autism.” Each wrote a response to the book, unique to his/her relationship with autism. Ali has an adult brother with autism; Kerry is an adult with autism. Below is Ali’s response to the book – stay tuned for Kerry’s blog post tomorrow.
When I was approached to read “A Regular Guy: Growing Up With Autism” and write a blog post from a sibling’s perspective, I was game. Shumaker shares her “family’s story of love and acceptance” in raising her son Matthew. I thought about the last book I read based on this subject. It was a children’s book and I was probably seven. My family always joked that we should write a book about our journey, and pick from the arsenal of stories from over the years. Oh well, I figured; let’s get reading.
I couldn’t put the book down. I got it. I found myself scribbling in the margins, highlighting and starring paragraphs and phrases, while I flipped through the tear-stained pages. My big brother Jeff is 25 years old and has been the focal point of my family’s life. He is inspiring to me and I adore him. Laura Shumaker’s honest portrayal of her life with autism resonates so much with my own.
She breaks up her story into three sections: “Beginnings,” “Navigating Childhood” and the “Road to the Future.” When Shumaker recalls her bout in finding some sort of diagnosis, I see my parents. After jumping from specialist to specialist, all weighing in with different viewpoints and recommendations, a young doctor wearing acid-wash jeans confidently diagnosed autism; as if it was a no-brainer. Having no idea, in 1987, what autism was, and nervous about the unknown life that lay ahead, my parents marched on. They vowed to do everything in their power to give our family the best life possible. As a courtesy to them, I don’t wear acid-wash.
I respect Laura Shumaker for sharing both good and bad experiences of her other two sons. I too, have experienced painful comments and taunts about my brother, even to this day. Just recently, in an upscale Hamptons restaurant I fielded remarks from two grown women in the ladies room. It hurts as much today as it did during recess in middle school. I can share with her two sons the conflicted emotions of having a brother with autism. Always, though my love, respect, and admiration win out for Jeff. I have another “normal” brother, and we have an understanding of one another and I will be forever thankful to have someone to share this with.
Shumaker also tells some embarrassing experiences that you just can’t help but laugh about. Matthew was honest – painfully honest. She tells a story, which was featured on the Autism Speaks Blog, about bringing in a babysitter who also happened to be overweight. Matthew couldn’t drop it, and so that story goes. My brother Jeff is always good for pointing out if you need to dye you hair to cover your roots, as well as unsightly scars, and wrinkles. He has expressed his desire for me to get Botox at the ripe age of 23. How rude.
Daily activities, for a family with autism, can be a great and strenuous adventure. While recalling a trip to church for a Family Worship Sunday, they had a share of surprises; I can’t help but laugh and remember. Our family never dared bringing Jeff to church unless we were prepared with the essentials – a pad and paper or his trusty Magnadoodle. Our lovely church always had a candlelight vigil the night of Christmas Eve. We always strategically planned to sit in a pew near the firefighters in case we had an “issue.” On one particular Christmas Eve, we had run out of paper (rookie mistake) and Jeff began to connect the dots on the polka-dot dress of a woman in front of us. She took it well. ‘Tis the season to be jolly, I guess!
Recently, our family moved Jeffery into a group home. My parents had prepared for awhile, but we just kept procrastinating. It seemed that the move-in date really snuck up on us. The agency Jeff has been with his entire life set up the most beautiful home. They really didn’t miss a trick and we will be eternally grateful. It is literally five minutes from our house, but we felt that it may as well be in Egypt.
Almost 20 years ago, we found three other families in our same boat. We call ourselves “The Lucky Ones,” and it is really true. How lucky we are, to have found an instant support group, that we can weather the storm together. Through the years, we have laughed and cried, and met many angels along the way that made life a little brighter, in times of darkness. I don’t know how we would have made it through without each other. On moving day, the men who have autism, who we will forever refer to as “the boys,” followed each other around like little ducklings. As hard as it was, leaving their home, we knew it was the best thing for everyone. Jeff has been there for about a month and is thriving.
When speaking of her two other sons, she says they, “came together in laughter and in sorrow, and they were left feeling the weight of their family’s bittersweet burden.” My brother Tom and I recently took Jeff out to dinner while my parents were away, and I couldn’t help but get emotional. I was thinking about our future together. How could I ever really move far away? Will we be able to hold everything together, as my parents have all these years? Shumaker put my own emotions so eloquently. The future will always be unsure, but I don’t for a second think Jeff is a burden. He is the purest and greatest blessing in my life. My brother made me who I am.
“A Regular Guy: Growing Up With Autism” sent me in a time machine, one that I would travel through again and again. I would like to thank Laura Shumaker for her honesty and for sharing her family with the world.
To check out Kerry Magro’s post on “A Regular Guy : Growing Up With Autism” read here.