By Samantha Serra
Every day, there is a young man who abruptly slams the back door to his family’s house, lurches down the steep driveway, and trudges towards the small town shopping center. His walking is odd, with his left shoulder held slightly higher than his right and twitching upwards every few steps. His brow is often furrowed, causing several creases right between his eyes, giving the impression of either serious thinking or anger, or possibly both. The awkward limp he has only adds to the disconcerting aura he gives off to others. However, to me, I know better because this is my brother and he has Aspergers Syndrome.
When I was younger, around 8 or 9, I remember having friends over and watching them stare at my brother, David. They would ask me what was wrong with him or who he was talking to or why he was smiling, and I would simply respond “Oh, that’s just how Dave is.” They would cautiously watch him from the corners of their eyes while we ate or watched movies as if they expected him to suddenly jump or scream, which occasionally he did. My family and I called them “outbursts,” and over the years, we learned most of what triggers them and how to react. For instance, when he was younger, children’s cartoons such as Spongebob used to make Dave immediately jerk his head in the opposite direction, usually into a pillow or some form of blockade, and command that it be turned off. Now, he is a bit more tolerant of Spongebob, but once in a while, we are caught off guard when his frustration and impatience get the best of him.
My mother, father, grandmother, and little sister all settled into places around the T.V and turned on the latest Ice Age movie. We thought it was quite amusing; however four giant bangs on the kitchen table would immediately alert us that one of us was not enjoying it. My mom and dad jumped out of their seats and ran to where my brother was now sitting, face in hands, at the kitchen table mumbling apologies. We learned later that two of the characters in the movie we were watching bothered him so much, it led to an outburst. At 24 years old and nearly 6 feet tall, Dave’s outbursts are much larger and louder than when we were 9 and 12. Though my parents, sister, and I know he would never hurt a fly, we worry that if others saw him react in a “violent” manner, they would be afraid, which could lead to serious trouble for Dave.
Aspergers is similar to Autism and ADD. I would say it is somewhere in between the two in seriousness. It is not just a social disorder, though Dave has difficulty carrying on “normal” conversation. He also talks to himself, paces, obsesses on certain topics, and is extremely sensitive. Not sensitive like a teenage girl going through puberty either. Dave’s sensitivity is round-the-clock and very specific. For instance, any humor that is risqué, politically incorrect, or vulgar would not generate any sort of positive reaction from Dave. He would shake his head and frown, possibly mumbling “Oh, jeez” in disapproval before exiting the room. Unfortunately for my brother, most 24-year-old males don’t understand this reaction and would brush it off as “jerky” or “loser” behavior. This adds to the multitude of reasons why Dave does not have any real friends.
My brother, though awkward in many ways, has the biggest heart out of anyone I know. For someone with no Bachelor’s degree, no job, and no specialized skills, Dave never stops trying to give. When Hurricane Sandy hit, he wanted to go to the shore and help our grandmother whose home had been affected. He didn’t understand that without the ability to lift heavy objects or lay down new wood flooring or set up new cabinets he would be useless. In his mind, our grandmother was distressed, and he wanted to fix her problems. He even offered to give up his small amount of Christmas money that our grandmother gives us every year in order for her to be able to fix her home.
Instead of people being afraid of Dave for his occasional outbursts or his “shifty shoulders” as my family and I call his awkward shambling, I want them to understand him and others like him. He is not violent; his condition is just misunderstood. Though I see why, as a child, my friends would peak at him wearily from behind their forkfuls of spaghetti as he hid behind cereal boxes, disgusted by the “worm-like” food they were eating, I think that now should be different. We are learning more each day about Autism spectrum disorders, and we should no longer fear those impaired by them. I have seen my brother happiest not after consuming various cocktails of prescription drugs to treat his condition, but when he is in the company of family and friends surrounded by laughter, conversation and love.
Growing up with Dave made my family and I more humble, honest, and compassionate people, and I could not have asked for a better big brother.