My brother Michael is autistic, low functioning and has never spoken. From the late 1980s through the 1990s, my project was to use photography to help me discover who my brother was and how I could relate to him. I wrote the following in the early 1990s about my recollections of Michael from childhood.
Sometimes chaos didn’t reign in the house
Sometimes Michael wasn’t cranky. I was not one to assign him human traits, but one might even say that he was happy from time to time. On these occasions, his face would appear to grimace, he would put his hand up to his ear in the delicate way he would hold it and say, “EEEEEEEAAAAAAA”, from the corner of one side of his mouth.
Dad, and sometimes Mom, would imagine that he said, “Here,” or “There”. Another call in his repertoire included, “Digadigadiga”. No one had a clue about that one. Michael would sometimes create the sounds of some of the classical music that Dad would always play around the house. When he would hum, I could imagine that he was actually hearing the music. His head would be cocked to the side and his hand would be up at his ear.
There was a cartoon that came on TV every once in a while. It was called Gerald McBoing Boing. It was about a boy who did not talk, but he could tell people what he wanted by making the sounds of the things he wanted to tell them about. I wondered how the people who made up the cartoon knew about Michael, if there were really other boys like him or if Michael could really be like Gerald. The closest Michael ever got to making a sound which made sense in context, was when he responded with a grunt in the pause that Dad left for the ‘surprise’ when he sang Hayden’s Surprise Symphony. Mike only did that a few times.