April 6, 2009

Happy Birthday, Tony.


We had a crazy busy weekend – aside from gatherings with family and friends, church on Sunday, and a condo administrator meeting, we shot Nick and Lauri’s boisterous wedding on Saturday (which we’ll post later this week).

Today’s post is going to be different from our usual fare because I really want to share something close to my heart. Today is my brother’s birthday. Today Tony turns 31 and I’m not quite sure he fully realizes it….because he is autistic.

This is not something I talk about often because it’s often difficult for me to discuss it. Although he is completely healthy and happy, our childhood was at times challenging. There were many times when my angelic-faced, laughing and impish older brother would suddenly turn angry and violent, sending my younger brother and I fleeing to hide in our basement in fear. When he wasn’t upset though, he was a good playmate. We’d play hide and seek although I did all the hiding while he would rummage through the house looking for me. Because sugar could aggravate his temper, my parents hid our candy and sweets yet incredibly, he was able to locate them all – and eat them, to their dismay. Autism does not equate to mental deficiency. It was always clear that he was able to process information as evidenced with his skills in quickly assembling puzzles and he had an uncanny memory for music and lyrics although not to the prodigal levels you associate with autistic savants. When he was happy, life was almost normal. He could surprise us with hugs and moments of playfulness. But those times were overshadowed with his destructive behaviour. I know that it was difficult on my parents – and not because of the fearsome tantrums. My brother does not communicate much so we never what was upsetting him or what was going on behind his eyes. Autism was so mysterious and unknown, they had little support and resources and what his future held was uncertain. At home and at the daily "school" program he attended at the hospital there was little we could do to cultivate his learning and development. Private treatments and therapies – the results of which now proven today to be effective – were unaffordable and not yet well known. Finally at the tender age of twelve, after many broken windows and holes punched through walls with my family stressed beyond what we could bear, my parents made the heart-breaking decision to send Tony to live in a special home outside of Montreal.

There is no sad ending to this though. Over the years, we have brought him home often and regularly. Medication has kept his violent tantrums at bay and he has long since healed from the years of repetitive wounds he inflicted on himself that we often could not stop. Tony has flourished in activities at his group home and given specialized attention he needs. But his real home will always be with us, his family, and whenever he is back for a weekend, my heart is more full and the family table feels finally, complete, especially when we eat meals that he insists on having.

My parents brought him back home this past weekend so we could celebrate his 31st birthday with him.  I can never tell what is going through his mind but I hope he knows that we love him to bits. There’s a few pictures below taken by Tim.

If you’re interested in learning more about Autism or would like to make a donation towards research on the disorder and providing support to individuals living with the disorder and their families, you can check out Autism Society Canada . And even though there are no pretty wedding pictures today, thank you for reading.