Lost in the Noise

I thought of new metaphor to explain my relationship with my older brother, Michael, while looking at some videotapes that I took of him in the 1990s. Mike is autistic, low functioning and has never spoken. A metaphor I often used was: “Relating to my brother Michael is like beating my head against a brick wall.” Harsh as that may sound, it summarized the situation very well.


For those of you who have never heard of videotape, it was the precursor to digital video. Signals were analog, just like the old audiotape cassette recorders. Audiotape? Also analog, you know, like the Sony Walkman?  Well, never mind. Suffice it to say that when one presses the pause button on a videotape player, one usually does not get a clean image on the screen. Noise is introduced, which manifests as white, snowy streaks.


I took my video camera to a party at Mike’s Day Program. It was loud, and many of the clients were dancing. They were having a lot of fun. I wonder why I didn’t spend more time at Mike’s side. He was just sitting there. I went over to see him, camera still rolling, and offered my hand. If I watch the videotape and let it run I can see, in the lower part of the frame, that he extended his hand to take mine. He often did that. But when I paused the tape, the lower part of the screen became obscured by noise.

Noisy video still of Mike reaching for my hand

I wonder what other signs of communication he offered became lost in the noise.

Snack time

After the party, it was snack time back in the classroom. one of the attendants offered Mike some food. There was a brief discussion between attendants, off camera, and I saw my brother give a sign, that’s right, a SIGN for eating. It was so brief that I had to watch the segment half a dozen times.  I had been at one of Mike’s reviews where the staff explained that they were teaching him the sign for ‘drink’. If I hadn’t known about this I wouldn’t have noticed Mike briefly touch his chin with his thumb. It would have gone under my radar.

Mike giving the sign for 'eat'

I used to think that Mike and I lived in different dimensions, the laws of communication different in our two universes. Now I wonder if communicating with Michael is like trying to see a polar bear in a snowstorm.

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