Brother Lost - My Dealings with Asperger Syndrome and family dysfunction
Please note the following story is my personal assessment of my brother's condition based on extensive research, talking to other family members and consulting with several doctors and counselors schooled in this type of disorder. To the best of my knowledge he was not diagnosed as a child or an adult but he demonstrates textbook symptoms and behaviors of Aspergers Syndrome.
Growing up and having no clue
Let's take a ride in the way back machine to the mid 1950s. WWII was over by a decade and young familys and teens were immersed in the American dream. My parents married on June 12, 1950 and had the first of four children on January 26th, 1954, a son. Three children followed in rapid succession. Me, in 1955, my middle brother in 1956 and my youngest brother in 1960. My dad worked a full time job, they bought several houses the second of which they lived in for 43 years where we were raised. Mom went back to work when i was 8 years old or so and worked until she retired. Dad worked until he retired too some 30 years later.
My focus of this story is my relationship with my older brother, whom for the sake of privacy I will call Kenny, and how my assessment ( see disclaimer above) of his Aspergers Syndrome condition affects me and my family. I always sensed there was something different about Kenny, even as a young child, I just couldn't put my finger on it. We were never close, never shared secrets, never really played together or bonded as I recall. I really have no fond memories of us together. He never behaved in the sense of how an "older brother" should, protective of his sister or his siblings. He was a sideline kind of guy, reserved, quiet, a loner, absorbed in his own world. I recall we bickered a lot as children. I found it was really easy to push his buttons and then the fight was on. My mom often had to pull us apart. As I blossomed into a young teenager and started dating or had boys come to call, they never had to pass the "older brother" test. At the time I found that disappointing, especially when my girlfriends had very protective brothers and their suitors had hell to pay to get past the front door. I knew Kenny was different, but in those days there was no knowledge of ADD or ADHD or parents running their children to the doctor to diagnose if Johnny was depressed much less has a disorder like Aspergers Syndrome. So life when on and we kids grew up, graduated from high school and some of us from college. Several of us moved away to other cites, but Kenny stayed home and lived with my parents for years. Never dated, never had a girl friend, just stayed in the safe cocoon of my parents home while he worked a full time job. What few friends he had from childhood also grew up, married and moved away.
My parents visited me one time when I was in my early thirties after my first divorce. The topic of Kenny came up and mom admitted to me he still lived at home. By this time he was in this mid thirties and seemed to have no intention of moving. My parents were both retired by then and wanting all the children to fly the nest. She asked me what to do? I told her if you want Kenny to move you are going to have to tell him to move. He will never do it on his own. I heard after they returned home that they gave him 30 days to find an apartment. He did move and found a studio apartment one mile from their house which he still lives in, that was some 25 years ago.
Over the years it always bothered me, what is wrong with Kenny, why is he so different? I talked to my middle brother and learned I had company in my boat. He felt the estrangement too. He only lives a 4 hour drive from Kenny but Kenny never initiates a desire to drive out and visit. He told me a story of how he invited Kenny out to visit him one time. Surprisingly Kenny accepted and made the 4 hour drive, but once he got there was only willing to stay a very short time and then insisted upon jumping back in his car and driving home that same day.
He has the same issues with most types of communication as well. He doesn't call, doesn't write, and conversation with him can be an exercise in frustration because Aspergers is typified by social dysfunction, expressing inappropriate things and lack of social skills. People afflicted by this syndrome do not or can not bond in the normal way with family or external relationships. An attempt to hug him would be like hugging a tree, there is no warmth there, no bond. They are somewhat trapped in a world that is comfortable for them which is often demonstrated by a very routine dogmatic lifestyle. They are often focused on specific things, eras or time frames usually to the point of being encyclopedic about it. Negating them from being able to focus on current events or emotional attachments. Ironically enough, the job that he has held for a number of years is in sales and apparently he is good at what he does in the sales world. I think the kicker here is that he doesn't have to make an emotional attachment with the person he is trying to sell something to. In that arena though it is still routine, the same sales approach, selling the same types of things over the years.
He used to sent me birthday cards, which I believe were at my mother's insistence, but sadly he would merely sign them "From your brother, Kenny" there was never a note, long or short. No emotion, no expressed love to his sibling sister. As the years flew by I would venture back to visit family and my secret hope was always maybe this time, this trip, Kenny would be different, healed somehow and I would have the brother that was lost to me. My counselor told me years later that was never going to happen. He was who he was, and he probably has a condition that prevents him from being the person I want him to be.
Acceptance is difficult and painful to know that I may never hear words like, " I miss you,I Iove you, I'm glad we are brother and sister" because of this. Those that have family member with Aspergers Syndrome or Autism can certainly relate and empathize with how this affects family and relationships. Here are several links to learn more about this condition.