Guest Post from Dad

Yesterday, Mom was my guest blogger. She said it was ok to post her e-mail to me in response to my post about memory and my childhood. She said how important it was for my younger brother and me to process the experience of growing up with our autistic, nonverbal and low-functioning brother, Michael.

Dad was a theoretical physicist. He had a great sense of wonder about nature, mathematics and music. He died in 2007, but wrote me an e-mail in 1998 outlining his thoughts about Mike. I am glad that he shared his thoughts with me and that I have this document together with my mother’s thoughts.

Dad’s E-mail

Subject: Michael

I shall discuss some thoughts of mine on child rearing before Mike was even born. I already told you of Norbert Wiener’s friend Boris Sidis who was a math genius under his autocratic father’s tutelage who was very unstable and finally went off the deep end. Wiener writes (I think in one of his books on cybernetics) that he was also taught in a strict and rigid way by his father and then became also a math genius. But the difference between him and his friend Boris was that Norbert was able to function very well in the academic field without becoming too flaky, in contrast to Boris. The reason that Wiener gives for this difference is that he (Wiener) had a more stable nervous system which allowed him to weather the constant barrage of information dumped on him by his father.

Why am I telling you this? Well I read the article about Sidis before Mike was born. I thought I would contribute to raising my child (boy or girl) much differently than Sidis or Wiener was raised. I would try to develop in the child a thirst for learning about the world around him/her. I would introduce the child to many different concepts and ideas ranging from literature to science to art, etc, and let the child finally find his own way after being exposed to information in different areas. This was a great and wonderfully expansive dream that I had. Unfortunately when Mike was born the whole grandiose set of plans were knocked into a cocked hat. Ironically, Nature played a cruel trick on mom and me by causing Mike to be born the way he is. This was devastating to your mother and me as you well know. Fortunately we were brave enough to want to have (and did have) two other children who are normal, thank God. I was able to test out the above-mentioned plans on both David and you. Both of you turned out to be very well adjusted and bright young men (thank God, again).

Both mom and I knew as soon as we took Mike home from the hospital that there was something terribly wrong with Mike’s development. When I now look at other babies, my grandchildren and my grandnieces and nephews, I am struck with the strong contrast between them as babies and Mike as a baby. He was entirely withdrawn to the extent of not looking at either of us (or anybody else, for that matter). It was as if he were afraid of the world around him so much so that he withdrew (I don’t know of any other word to describe it) completely from his environment. The result is today he is an emotional and mental cripple.

As you know, we had Mike home till he was twelve. This was hell on all of us. Dave and you didn’t have the pleasure of growing up with a big brother whom you could look up to it was a crippling experience for all of us. By some miracle through our own strength we were able to survive to finally live normal lives after we sent Mike to Willowbrook.

I think that this is all I’ll say at this time. There is much more to tell by all of us. Your mother’s safety valve is to block out the bitter past experiences by not discussing them. And finally to complete the picture I’d like to drag Dave into the picture and get his reactions to growing up with Mike. But that’s another thread in the tapestry of our lives. Keep well and happy.

I love you.


autistic child and father

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