For those of you who know me, or have maybe read a few of my other blogs, you know that I not only have an autistic son, but I also have an older brother with autism as well. Having my brother Bradley in my life has given me another perspective on autism that many others may not have. I have a familiar comparison to look at and parents that know firsthand what raising a child with autism is like that I can go to for advice. Although I wish that autism wasn’t such a prevalent thing in our family, I try to make the best out of the situation and use the extra insights available to my advantage. There may be plenty of times that I continue to reference what I know about Bradley and his experiences throughout different blogs, so I thought it would be a good time to fully introduce him to my readers.
Born in 1983, being diagnosed as a kid with autism was FAR more rare than it is today. Bradley was not formally diagnosed until age 6, and at the time of diagnosis, my parents were unfamiliar with what autism really was. The world Bradley grew up in was very different than the world for my son.
My parents were wonderful. They went to seminars to learn more about autism, they pushed hard against the school system to get Bradley the help that he needed, but I know it wasn’t easy. Bradley was moved around a lot during his school years to various programs because the things that we have today with special education and IEPs were just not really in place, at least not to the extent that we have now.
It wasn’t just the school that was different either. Everyone was different. Today, if I tell people that Damion is autistic, most have a general understanding of what that means. During Bradley’s childhood, that was not the case. Being around Bradley most people just assumed that he was a bad kid, or that he had parents that didn’t discipline him enough. Adults were worse, and since many kids take cues from adults, kids seemed worse too. Bradley has always been heavier set even as a child, which just seemed to fuel the fire when it came to bullies. It wasn’t really until Bradley was in high school that it seemed like things were finally starting to turn around a bit. Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of ignorant people and bad situations that we have found ourselves in from time. The world still has room for improvement, but the strides we have made since Bradley was a kid are very apparent.
Bradley is higher functioning than many of the autistic counterparts of his same age, but not so much that his diagnosis slipped under the radar like other stories that you hear about today. He is completely verbal, he understands jokes, he can read, write, do basic math, etc. He also has plenty of life skills: cooking, cleaning, mowing, he can care for himself with fairly limited reminders. But the autism is still evident. He stills lives with my parents, I don’t think driving a car would ever be a safe option for him, and even into adulthood he still remains interested in childish things. His room is still filled with power rangers and other toys. He is in his late thirties and his current favorite hobby walking around town playing Pokémon go. Being around Bradley now is sort of like being around and 11-year-old in an adult’s body. It would almost remind you of Tom Hanks character in the movie “Big”. He even still sneak-attacks other adults with cannon balls in the pool when we go swimming, just like a young boy would do. He can have a conversation with you, but it is likely that he will try to dominate the conversation with things that he is interested in. He tends to want to play with people that share his interests which often lead him to adults that humor him or other children. This makes it difficult for Bradley to form relationships with adults, but it sure does make him a great uncle to my kids.
My kids love Uncle Bradley. He is fun. He has interesting toys and likes to play games with them. I love that they enjoy their time with their uncle. Damion has found that he can get a rise out of Bradley that he can’t with many other adults which can make for frustrating times. We tell Bradley that if he ignored Damion that the behavior would stop, but he keeps giving the reaction, so Damion keeps on too. In these instances, Bradley often asked me why Damion can’t just be normal, the irony of the question is of course quite comical.
When I moved into all the adult pieces of my life (getting married, having kids), Bradley would often ask me why he didn’t have all those things. He was the older brother, when would it be his turn to be a dad? It is so hard to see him not be able to get all of the things that he obviously wants. I try often to just remind him that he is a great uncle and I hope deep down that he can find happiness in that.
Bradley is about five years older than me, so my earliest memories Bradley are when he was just a bit older than Damion is now. I’ve had to ask my mom for references to how Bradley was those stages of him life that I wasn’t present for. In many ways, Bradley is a goal for me when it comes to Damion. I look at his milestones as a reference for myself on where Damion may be when he grows up. It is hard for me to still have such an unknown on what Damion’s future will be, and looking to Bradley gives me some comfort. I would love to see Damion be even more self-sufficient than Bradley, but truth be told I think if Bradley had the programs in place that we have today, his own story may have been different as well.
Having Bradley as my brother has shaped a large part of how I perceive autism as a whole. I have so many Bradley stories I could tell you, enough to write an entire book at least. I imagine some of these stories will come into play as this blog continues. But for now, hopefully this brief introduction of Bradley gives you an idea of the other look I have into autism: A siblings view of what growing up beside someone on the spectrum is like, a long-term view of what autism can change into and look like as they move to adulthood, and a view of how the world has changed alongside them.
Bradley has given me a siblings view of what growing up beside someone on the spectrum is like