Autism Sibling & Expression

This is a difficult post to write. As many of you know, I began this blog as a continuation of my efforts to define my relationship with my older autistic brother. Mike is very low functioning as well as profoundly retarded. For 11 months I posted about what it was like for me as a sibling; my efforts to understand Mike through my photography; neuroscience related to autism; philosophy of mind, and so on.

I hadn’t seen Michael in years until this past November (2013), the day before his 64th birthday. I had been eagerly anticipating the reunion. My mother and younger brother would be there, the remainder of my original family. I was so disappointed by the fact that Mike didn’t seem to recognize any of us. I felt like all my efforts to understand him were for naught.

Shortly after our visit to Mike, I shifted the focus of my blog to concentrate on artistic expression (mainly visual) of inner thoughts or states of mind. I wondered if there is a way to express one’s self without engaging one’s intellect. I explored the idea that, in the visual arts, the artist must make conscious decisions. For example, painters must decide what colors to use; photographers must decide how to frame a shot. I entertained the idea that there is a state of creative consciousness that an artist inhabits, which enables an unlinking of the intellect from the act of creating.

Expression experiments

During the past few weeks, after my shift in concentration from autism to self expression, I posted some of my watercolor experiments. I had fun playing with different ideas: 1) watercolor and impasto techniques; 2) preserved white space; 3) painting white spaces with complimentary colors.

The hard part

I seems that, during the past few weeks of looking into abstract expressionism, my subconscious mind must have lingered on my disappointing experience with my brother. That experience has dredged up long forgotten feelings – not memories of how I must have felt back in my childhood, but feelings I am now experiencing. Strong feelings. Negative feelings.

The watercolor below had several inspirations: 1) the idea that my brother had such a great impact on my life; 2) the thought that my personality was shaped in an environment where my brother required all the attention; 3) the idea that I sustained a fatal injury as a child as a result of my reaction to my brother’s presence, that hasn’t killed me yet; 4) Dexter, the TV show.

Watercolor of spatter pattern except for a white-space profile


8 thoughts on “Autism Sibling & Expression

  1. This feels like a brave post Jack. I am always wanting to ask you about number 2, partly for self-interested reasons: thinking about the impact on my daughter of having grown up in an environment such as the one you describe. I’m intrigued by 3 and 4 as I don’t understand. Your posts are always thought-provoking. Thank you.

    • Thanks, Liz.
      #4 is easy: Dexter is a TV show about a forensics expert, a blood spatter expert to be specific. He also happens to be a serial killer, but a very sympathetic character. You should check it out if you get a chance.
      #3 is harder to explain. Sometimes I feel as if having Mike as a brother did me a grievous injury psychologically. I know that I am a better person because of him but there is that dark feeling that I missed something I needed as a child that would have made me a happier person. The ‘fatal injury’ bit is a metaphor I thought of a while back. Quite dark.
      Thanks again Liz for all your comments and your interest.



      • Hi J – thanks for info about Dexter – I might look that up. #3 is very interesting and difficult for me. Thanks for explaining it was a metaphor – so it is a re-working of #2? What I will say, from a parent’s perspective, is that it’s possible that one or both of your parents have the mirror of this, i.e. that they missed parenting you because of your brother, and that they grieve that loss in the same way as they feel other losses in relation to your brother. That’s certainly how I feel about my daughter; that just as I’m sure she is often resentful at her brother for taking so much of my attention (not her dad’s – he isn’t Dylan’s father so her relationship with him is somehow unaffected by this) and for preventing her from doing some ‘normal’ things while she was growing up, so I am acutely aware of what I have missed as her mother. Because her father and I divorced, my daughter had the option of going to live with him, thus avoiding both the brother who I think she perceived as ‘spoiling’ her life, and the mother who she was angry at for giving the brother so much attention – but you can’t leave things like these really of course, and I’m sure we are both carrying ‘grievous injury’ as a result, her as a daughter and me as her mother. So I suppose what I’m saying is I understand your #3 – but I bet your parents have that dark feeling as well – that they missed something they needed as your parents. Thanks for your interesting posts, Liz

        • Thanks, Liz.
          Hmmm…. I don’t know if attention or lack thereof led to my metaphor of the fatal injury or not. It is possible I suppose. I hadn’t thought about the parents loss of parenting the unimpaired child, but I don’t think this is the case with my parents. I have a younger brother as well, who missed the brunt of the effect of my older brother. So I think my parents had a chance to catch up on parenting. Who knows?

          Thanks for your insight.



  2. For about 20 years, I didn’t even know I was co-dependent on my sister and her needs. I needed to be needed. Now I live away and she lives away and I don’t know who I am without that daily need. I tried transferring it onto another, but that didn’t work. Maybe my blank walls are my white space. Maybe I’ll have the courage to fill them in one day. Thanks Jack.

    • Sorry for not responding sooner, H.
      Yes, I can certainly understand that it must be a strange feeling to be without the daily demands upon you. I imagine that guilt must be in the mix somewhere. I am sure that you will find courage and strength within yourself, even though it might not seem so.
      Thanks for commenting.

  3. Hello Jack, I’m glad that you remind us of key posts sometimes on SibNet. I am glad that in #2, you phrased it, “having Mike as a brother”, not assigning blame to one individual, good for you, it keeps the path clear for your own self exploration, and seems like experimenting and noticing your feelings is part of it. I’m not at all surprised that your brother didn’t know you all – at least initially. I’ve worked in elder care, and children often carry clear memories of parental interests, jokes, food preferences, etc – but it takes ongoing close familiarity to stay up to date. Our physical appearances change greatly too – what a shock when I saw my older brother after many years, realized he had become an old man, and any look by now in the mirror, shows me the same changes happened to me!

    I believe we grow up in an environment of particular cultural assumptions, about how to teach, manage money or time, how to share, assumptions agreed on or not agreed on, between parents. Having a child with significant disabilities throws a fairly new curve at parents, and families with children with disabilities are not as well supported by cultural assumptions in their surroundings. They can feel more isolated, and become lost and more intense and less flexible in ways they deal with each other. We get our adult habits and expectations from many parts of our early experiences at home. Battles between my parents were bitter because the alcoholism of both, made us as children witness longer, frequent battles, and my father’s illness and intense work schedule added distance and also pressure, and he died when I was 10, and his last son, my muliti disabled brother was then 2. Parents had decided to have more children because they wanted to go along with the Pope, but the Catholic schools had never made plans to consider teaching disabled children. My impression is that we grow up in various combinations of generational and cultural ideas and relationshiips within historic and present societies around us – pretty complex!! And finding our identities as an adult, is a challenge, for all humans, so I wish you peace and learning!

    • Hi C. Thanks for the comment.
      I am not really surprised either that my brother didn’t recognize me after several years. I can count on one hand the number of times that I THINK he recognized me. Over the past year, I have rehashed a lot of thoughts and feelings from years before, but only after this past November’s (2013) visit did I feel the anger that I used to feel. I know that anger is my feeling of first resort and upon reflection, is usually replaced. In this case I think the underlying feeling was one of sadness. I don’t want to do any more rehashing, although I would like other sibs to know that there are others who can appreciate the whole range of feelings and that it is ok to feel any way one feels. Actions are what counts. Even an action to remove one’s self from a situation is understandable. No one should be judgmental about a sib who chooses that option.
      Thanks for your comment,

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