Saturday, January 23, 2010

Autism "then"

This is the "condensed version" of a very long story.

My brother in law was born in the 1950's, with two older siblings already in the house. 

In his infancy, he became sick and ran a very high fever.  According to my mother in law, the fever was the dividing line between normal development and things that seemed more and more wrong, compared to how his two older siblings had developed.

The medical profession's answer to that was to offer her criticism and blame.

For example, he wasn't showing any signs of learning to talk and the doctor said it was because she was "spoiling" him.  He didn't speak until he was nearly five.  If she was advised to institutionalize him, she has never confided in me about that.

When it came time for his first communion and confirmation, the priest didn't want my young brother in law to participate with the other children.

At some point in education, he was put into "special education" classes at what in New York State was called BOCES.  In those days before IDEA and "Section 504" the right of the disabled to a free, appropriate public education was non existant.  Every day he would come home, bullied again.

He craved routine.  He had frequent temper tantrums.  He did not respond to others, and was friendless.  He spoke in a flat voice, not making eye contact. He had an amazing ability to remember dates and the weather on each day of his life.  He could predict dates in the future (i.e. ask him when Easter will be in 2020 and he will tell you instantly).

At some point, a caring teacher saw something in my brother in law, and he ended up back in "regular" education, graduating high school.  This, mind you, without a diagnosis, without a scrap of intervention.  My mother in law tried to advocate for him in a world where you hid your disabled (hopefully not in the attic), and she labored alone.  Remember there were no support groups, no Internet, and not even a name for what my brother in law was experiencing.   Until one of her friends talked my mother in law into taking my brother in law to a special place where they would study him, and there would finally be a name, an explanation.

He was 19.  And, the name was autism.

After a short lived try at college, it was found that my brother in law had some ability to work with his hands, and he ended up at ARC.  Back then it was called the Association for Retarded Children. 

There is much more to this story, but for now, this will have to suffice.

As the time grows close to his visit, I will write more.  My brother in law's story deserves to be told, and he is limited in his ability to tell it.

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