My brother Michael is unrecognizable in this portrait. I had not intended it this way, but it is oddly appropriate. Since Mike has never spoken and functions on a very low level, I don’t know much about him as a person. He is alien to me. As I have discussed in previous posts, seemingly ad infinitum, (The Eyes Have It, Invisible Barrier, Name This Photograph, Complex Motor Tics?, Fun with Mike and Jack, Low Functioning, Nonverbality…) there is no possible way that I could know anything about him.
I thought that I had carefully observed him when I was a child, while he was at home. Maybe I didn’t know what to look for; maybe I was too young. I did know that food made him happy. He didn’t seem to mind how messy, sticky or gooey he got. If he put his hand on a hot stove, it hurt him, just like it would hurt anybody else. Now and then he would have a crooked smile on his face, take my hand and hit himself with it. Was that his way of playing? Since the term ‘autism’ comes from ‘autos’, Greek for ‘self’, was he including me in his sphere of ‘selfness’ at those times? Did that mean that his smile was an introspective one? I’ll never know.
It is tough enough knowing ‘neurotypical’ people: people who understand what I say and have an inkling of what I mean; people to whom I can relate through similar experience; people who can use language or other narrative modes to communicate. It is tough enough knowing people who want to communicate.
Is my portrait of my brother Michael an indication of a core in each of us: unrecognizable to others, but completely recognizable to the self? Is it just a barrier preventing communication beyond that strange core?
Or is it more than that?