I have grown up with a brother who has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of the autism. My brother Danny is 23 and still lives at home with our parents. I have seen how he lives his life on a day to day basis. I want to offer some insights on Asperger’s from my viewpoint as Danny’s sibling to people who have not seen Asperger’s up close, and some advice as well, in dealing with Asperger’s.
The first time it actually sunk in that my brother was different was when I was about 12. We were sitting at the table while my Mom was making some cookies. There were cookbooks by Company’s Coming on the table, and Danny and I were looking through them. If you have ever read any of the Company’s Coming cookbooks, you will know that there are often little anecdotes underneath the recipes. We were skimming through them and reading them out loud to each other, and laughing. Danny was reading one out loud when I suddenly realized he was not reading the anecdote, he was reading the recipe, and laughing. Afterwards I went down to my room and cried, because I had not realized before this that there was something different about Danny, something that made him want to try so hard to make me laugh even though he did not even know why we were laughing.
There are lots of encouraging things about Danny. Danny is able to read and count just like anyone else. His ability for memorization is incomparable; after watching a movie he is able to recite the lines of the characters almost completely off by heart. He watches the NHL, and knows the name and jersey number of every single player from every single team. He has numerous obsessions; he collects tennis balls, and golf balls, hockey pucks, and hockey cards, keeping them in boxes, and carting them around the house in his pockets, stuffed so full that his pants will slide down with the weight. He likes very much to read children’s books, and he will often read to our younger brothers. He receives an allowance from the checks he gets from the government, and is abundantly overgenerous, giving gifts and beaming with delight when people open them.
There are also a lot of ways that Asperger’s hinders him. He has a hard time conveying his emotions. If asked if something if troubling him, he will often respond that he does not know. He becomes angry easily, often for no discernible reason, and derogative, but mostly towards himself. I have seen him being excited to go on a fishing trip, and then tell everyone he would not go because he lost a certain fishing hook. I have seen him waiting for hours for a hockey game to come on, and then refuse to watch it if asked to help with some household chores during commercials. He will tell a story to you and not notice if you are busy or don’t have time, he will follow you around and doggedly until the story is completed. In this way especially, he is blind to the feelings of other people.
I think the most important thing to remember is respect. No one wants to be treated like their disability inhibits them and makes them less of a human being. Treat anyone you meet, not just people with Asperger’s, as you would like to treated. Being kind, and patient, is all a part of that. I have had to listen to many a story I did not want to hear from Danny. But how could I refuse when his eyes are shining and his excitement is clear? I am grateful and proud that he wants me to know what has happened to him. Be happy for that person, for the sake of their happiness.