I would like to keep the focus of my blog on autism. In my mission statement, I say that I want to talk about autism in relation to family dynamics, neuroscience, the history of treatment of mental disorders and medical ethics. However, I think the best contribution I can make is to relate my own experiences as a sibling of an autistic brother. My brother Michael is at the low end of the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) rainbow. He is profoundly retarded (speaking from a diagnostic perspective) and nonverbal as well. Other siblings in similar situations know the impact of a severely handicapped family member. The affect on me, the second child, was significant although by no means as rough as that which some siblings experience. I’m not complaining. It was what it was, and I am happy with the way I turned out. I can’t imagine myself being any other way. But I have struggled to some degree and I wish I had developed better skills in many different areas.

I don’t know how much of the way I am is directly attributable to general family dynamics (i.e., interactions with Mike, my parents and my younger brother); how much to other factors, (i.e., being Jewish in a smallish town with only one or two other Jewish families); the times during which I grew up (1950s and 1960s); and how much is attributable to my own genetic/epigenetic makeup.  I already know, from a comment made to an earlier post, that my tendency to be a pack rat and accumulate ‘stuff’, with the attendant difficulty in disencumbering, is probably NOT due to being a sibling of an autistic brother. Another sibling wrote to tell me that she has no trouble throwing things away, and actually feels better being unencumbered. That was a valuable insight for me to learn. In that case, family dynamics was probably trumped by my own makeup.

Tediousness of repetition

I imagine that the hashing and rehashing events of my childhood directly related to my autistic brother must be getting tedious to readers of my blog. How much can one read about: philosophy of memory; the importance to me of accurate portrayal of events; mind blindness; the core of my frustrations; blah, blah, blah…  I know that these topics are important, but I would like to shift my writing a bit and relate some of the more pedestrian concerns and struggles I have had. I hope that the reader is not disappointed in the less-than-direct link to autism; perhaps other siblings can identify with some of these more common problems. So I will wander off on this tack for a while and let the reader decide.

First attempt: My trip to Europe in the early 1980s.

Some people will go to great lengths

So here’s the plan. I was invited to go to Europe as one of two musicians for a folk dance troupe. I was young, single, shy and awkward in social settings. My shyness was one of the reasons that I was a fiddler playing for dances instead of dancing at dances.

There was a chance that I would click with one of the dancers, which was unlikely. First, I was older than most of them; second, I was a musician. When you think about it, how many dates does a piano player at the whorehouse get? Not that there’s any comparison with the dance troupe and a whorehouse. Just saying…

The serendipitous publication of a book by Andre Dubus, fit right in with my plan. I bought it, and packed it away in my backpack (suitcases were out, backpacks were in at that time) for reading on the flight home. The thought was, I would be reading the book while prominently displaying the cover. Some beautiful young thing would see me reading “Finding a Girl in America” engage me in conversation, and ask me why I would need to go all the way to America to find a girl. We would hit it off, and… you guessed it, live happily ever after.

As most good plans… it didn’t work. My only regret was that it was a hardcover book, and very heavy to lug around. Future plans would incorporate that wisdom and I would pack lighter, more pithy literature.

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