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Monday, September 7, 2015

Adult, Autistic and Ignored

TWO months before she died of pancreatic cancer in November 2010, my normally strong, stoical mother broke down weeping in my arms over the fate of my autistic older brother. Institutionalized for over 40 years, Joshua, then 55, was in a stable situation and seemed relatively happy. But my mother was undone by that fear that haunts all parents of disabled children: What will happen to them when I’m gone? Though I hastened to assure her that I would become his guardian and watch over him after her death, she was inconsolable. In reality, given the nature of the bond between them, I shouldn’t have been surprised. As is often the case between mother and disabled child, the two early on formed a deep, exclusionary attachment that relegated the other members of our family to the outer boroughs of maternal attention. My brother’s marathon tantrums, his gory public (and private) displays of self-mutilation and his regular physical assaults on our mother left me balancing as a boy on a narrow emotional catwalk between instinctual love for my sibling and blind rage. But none of that altered the depth of her feeling for him in the least. He was her main passion in life, and would remain so till the very end. After her death, as promised, I signed the guardianship papers and found myself suddenly a part-time resident in the island nation of adult autism in America. What I didn’t realize at the time was just how uncharted the waters around that island would turn out to be.

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