Autism is still a misunderstood condition, when I grew up it was called the middle class malaise which it certainly isn’t.
It’s Autism Awareness month and I’ve not seen much about it except via Crystal Jigsaw who is compiling posts about it throughout the month, so pop over and have a read if you want to find out more. I think we all need a more enlightened approach to mental and physical disability; inclusion, empathy and understanding would go a long way which is why I’ve written this post.
I have an autistic brother, I think of him as the Buddha of the family, he’s serene and content in his own world, always happy and occasionally very chatty. If you spent an afternoon with my brother, you would laugh your bloody head off at some of the things he says. He’s a fantastic mimic and has got the most amazing sense of humour. He loves nothing more than a good joke and a belly laugh. He lives a meaningful life which he enjoys greatly. That in itself is a miracle as things have not always been that way.
There’s no escaping the fact that having a disabled sibling brings with it many things both good and bad. I’m not going to sugar coat it, when I was younger, there was a sense of loss at not having a normal brother and with that comes guilt for even thinking that. There’s always been an added responsibility, worry about the future; where is he going to live, who is going to look after him? Fortunately my brother lives independently as part of a community and luckily has managed to stay out of institutions. There are many others who haven’t and some of the stories of their unexplained broken limbs and regression are very disturbing.
Autism is rarely talked about and when it is in the media, it’s usually portrayed as a gift; idiot savantism. Today I watched Rain Man with my daughter. I watched it so long ago that I needed to remind myself if it was any good, and I wanted to get my daughter’s view on it too. We both agreed that it made autism look a bit glossy and the plot was implausible, but Dustin Hoffman captured the mannerisms, echolalia and obsessions brilliantly. The film fails to capture the hostility and fear of the general public when faced with anything or anyone who is unpredictable and behaving beyond accepted norms. Perhaps it’s because collectively we can’t face our cowardice or failings; or maybe it’s just a bit too sad.
Growing up, and even a few years ago, walking down the road with my brother has at times been terrifying. He’s not just autistic, he’s blind which makes him not only vulnerable but an easy target. I’ve lost count of the times that people have laughed and shouted ‘Spaz!’, ‘Mong!’, ‘Freak!’ and ‘Retard!’ at him while making faces and hand signals. I’m glad he’s not seen it. Whenever he’s asked me why people are laughing, I’ve always told him that it’s because of me and the terrible outfits I’m wearing. Well, what would you do? We’ve always laughed it off (even though I might have cried silently occasionally).
My perspective on autism is that I’ve not really known life without its towering presence; I wish more people would understand it and stop trivialising it and more importantly that there was more research into the real causes, and ways to improve the lives and well being, of those with autism.
If you do one thing for Autism Awareness, or in fact any other disability awareness, stop and think before you pepper your conversation with phrases like ‘you think you’ve got a touch of aspergers’ or that someone you know has ‘such a great memory they must be autistic’.
Please don’t just turn autism into a throw away comment….
You can read about autism on these web sites