Showing his niece the well-prepared garden beds
This weekend, for the first time in a long time, I got to spend a lot of time with my brother, all by ourselves.
Life intervenes and sometimes it will be a long time before adult siblings do things with “just” themselves, no spouses or parental units or children around. He and I had a great time. This wasn’t always the case when we were children in the same house, certainly, but we both really looked forward to his spending the weekend on the farm, and we both thoroughly enjoyed the visit.
It is with much happiness that I recently read that the DSM-VI, due to come out in 2012, will focus on the Autism Spectrum Disorders as just that: a disorder that has a wide spectrum. The world of shrinkdom and the general medical, educational and, indeed, American people will then just concentrate on this one thing. Autism. It’s a big flipping tent, people, with a strong emphasis on “spectrum.” Gone will be the categories of Asperger’s and P.D.D.-N.O.S., little islands in the field, one stating a putative intellectual superiority, the other a not-quite-square-peg-but-close-enough nondiagnosis.
You see, my brother is autistic. Not Asperger’s, not P.D.D.-N.O.S., not retarded, not a savant, but autistic.
One of the things that has irked me terribly is that most discussions of autism have tended to focus almost entirely on the cute, young, odd, mostly male children affected by it. It’s a communication disorder, and I find it entirely ironic that it has been communicated to be a developmental disorder solely found in very young children. My brother is in his early 40s, folks; though it showed up when he was a toddler, it’s still here! Thank goodness for Rain Man, is all I can say, as people might never know that autism affects adults as well.
What is entirely interesting to me, in watching my brother, is that the disorder has ebbs and flows itself: it, indeed, also follows a spectrum along any individual’s life. Many of his autistic peculiarities have receded with time, residuals of a different way of being. Gone is the hyper-number thing he had, gone is the full knowledge of the commuter train schedule, gone are many of the odd other parlor tricks he could pull. What remains is an encyclopedic knowledge of certain events in his life (e.g., “Sister, on May 11, 1975, you said this to me,” etc.) and a somewhat odd ability to be able to tell you what day of the week anything happened. This latter remains in parlor-trick status, as his one icebreaker is “What’s your birthday, and the year,” and he’ll spit out that you were born on a Wednesday.
He’s still the best help I could ever have around here. Uncomplainingly, he helped me winnow over 50 pounds of beans, and move about 70 wheelbarrowloads of mulch about the garden. He’s shelling Christmas Limas with his niece as I type this, while I’m in a kitchen redolent of dehydrating cherries and roasting chicken and bread.
He’s no island-dweller. He’s just who he is, and he lives under the big tent that is Life On This Planet, with all its wonderful, wildly varied human forms. And I am so glad he’s in my life.