* To offer my experience as a sibling of a severely handicapped person to other siblings who have faced and are confronting similar situations;
* To look at the state of treatment of mental health conditions, past and present;
* To talk about medical ethics regarding mentally handicapped;
* To see if public policy meets the needs of mentally handicapped;
I grew up in the 1950s. There was something wrong with my older brother. He has never spoken and it was never obvious to me if he knew who I was. My parents took him everywhere to try to find out what it was. I don’t know when it was finally decided that he was autistic and profoundly retarded. Mike lived at home until I was ten years old, when he was brought to live at Willowbrook, a mental institution on Staten Island, NY. He lived there until it was closed (in the 1970s) after wide-scale abuse was uncovered. My family and I used to visit him there. Today he resides in a group home.
My quest to understand Michael has led me in many different directions. During my early years, I wrote many of my thoughts on paper, partly to help me think. Later, when I studied photography, I found another way to examine my relationship with him. It also helped that he wasn’t aware of what I was doing and couldn’t “shoot back”. I began a long-term personal project about our relationship and brought it with me to every workshop and class I took. I have a draft of a photographic memoir called My Brother Michael, which I hope to have published.
Although today, I am not involved with autism or autistic individuals on a daily basis, it has shaped my life. I hope that my experiences are relevant to those struggling today.