Sunday, February 21, 2016

My Autistic Brother's Quest for Love

He takes off his glasses and wipes his eyes with his index finger and continues. "I think true love is out there, but I know it's hard to find. Yes, I am handicapped. Yes, I have special needs, but my disabilities have nothing to do with love whatsoever." 

Slumped in his bedroom chair, Randy scrolled through profiles of single women. He was exhausted and slightly sweaty, and hadn't felt like doing much else. He certainly didn't want to clean; clothing was piled high on the floor, Cheetos stains dappled his unmade bed. After a few clicks, in a dating group on Facebook, he came across the woman he would later intend to marry. He was instantly drawn to her round face and beaming smile, and he built up the courage to send a friend request. Farah (not her real name) quickly added him back, and they began chatting. Like my brother, she had distinct quirks, repeating odd phrases in rhythm like a metronome. She was the only girl who seemed to fall in love with him instantly—the only person in the world who cared to understand him. 

Randy is now 27, one of 3.5 million Americans on the autism spectrum. He suffers from what is officially called PDD, or pervasive developmental disorder, a condition whose symptoms vary enormously—hence the term "spectrum"—but are generally characterized by delays in the maturation of socialization and communication skills. Doctors have not yet uncovered its root cause (or causes), leading many to put faith in disproven theories such as vaccinations, pesticides, prenatal exposure to traffic pollution, non-stick cookware, gluten intake, and poor maternal bonding. The typical age of onset is three years old, sometimes younger. Randy had problems from birth. Communication has always been one of his hardest struggles, and meeting someone he could truly connect with was like coming across a match burning brightly in the darkness.