I’m so glad that I can still talk with Mom. Even though we are on different coasts, I can still ask her about things in my childhood. She and I are practically the only ones left who have first-hand knowledge about those times. Over the years I’ve bombarded her with many questions about Michael, my older brother. He is autistic, profoundly retarded (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fourth Edition (DSM IV) Axis II 318.2) and nonverbal. She says it is OK to talk with her about him, but I know that it must be difficult for her.
I spent many years trying to figure out my relationship with Mike. Not an easy task, given his disabilities. The result has been a deepening awareness of my own limitations and a sadness realizing that my brother is essentially unknowable on all but the most basic level.
I started a new project that will enable me to understand what my parents were facing in the 1950s and 60s, when they were seeking support to deal with their seriously handicapped child. I want to paint a picture of the mental health environment during those times.
I was reading through one of Mike’s assessments, for the umpteenth time the other day with my new project in mind. The report said that Mike was diagnosed with infantile autism when he was 3 years old. That would have been in 1952 – the same year that the first DSM was published. Autism was not a separate category, but folded into the schizophrenia diagnosis.
What surprised me was the notation that Mike “attended a developmental school in Bronx, New York for one and a half years when he was about five or six.” I don’t recall knowing about this.
Better call Mom
I asked Mom about this, and she said, “Oh yes, he attended the Bronx developmental center for a while.” I was pleased that she remembered right way.
I wanted to know more, so I asked, “What was the name of the place?”
She said, “Bronx Developmental Center.”
“Oh,” I said.
She then said, “That was when you told me about this dream you had where you were riding in the car, and no one was driving.”
I told her, “I remember.”
I asked her about the times she took Mike to the Paine Whitney Clinic in Manhattan. She recalled, “I used to take you both in, drop you off at Mimi’s [in Stuyvesant Town], take Mike to the clinic and come back to Mimi’s. She always had an aspirin ready for me. Then we would pick up Mike and go home. We did this three times a week.”
I asked, “What did they do with him there?”
She said, “They gave him therapy. He always knew when the session was over and it was time to go. The therapist, Dr. Schoelley didn’t think it was helping.”
Mom reminded me that she and a group of other parents started the Forum School. “It is still around today,” she told me. I looked it up and it indeed is still in existence, in Waldwick, New Jersey.
I’m so glad that Mom is still available for me to talk with.