The older puzzle piece – my autistic story

 This is my brother…Marlon Hutchinson, and he’s autistic.

Not a lot of people know that I have an autistic brother, you might think it’s because I’m ashamed of that fact…or of him?

That would be a stern No! 

I am ashamed…but not of him or his condition…I’m ashamed of the facilities and lack of resources to help him.
No I haven’t really spoken about this to anyone more than a few close friends and family…why? Well because it’s not really anybody’s business and it tends to evoke two emotions; 

A smug nonchalance or pity, and when someone is trying to live their life the best way they can the worse thing you can give to them is pity.

Sympathy and pity without thought and a dose of reality makes you donate toys and shoes to starving kids in Africa. It’s a nice gesture but that’s all it is…just a gesture…it doesn’t help the real problems.

Now Marlon is my younger brother by 2 years, after him came a girl and before me was a girl so I missed out on that close sibling comradeship brothers that close in age tend to have. Growing up he wasn’t a difficult child, he developed as a normal kid would, then came the withdrawal and the lack of speech. And as a kid myself this became routine. I guess I had my own battle dealing with, being asthmatic and constantly hospitalized so I missed a lot back then, plus I was four what would I remember??

What I do remember is accompanying my mother to the School of Hope, in August town, Kingston and the routines; Dropping him off and going back for him, being at the bus stop in Downtown, Kingston to head back to Portmore where we lived which was about 30mins drive, as he got to the bus stop he would get his “bag juice” and snack from the vendors outside…come to think of it…I think it was one or two people and they would look out for him…knowing the drill…he chose what he wanted and my mother or older brother would pay…who wasn’t far behind, then the waiting for the bus to leave to go home. 
After awhile this routine stopped…
Marlon wasn’t allowed to return to school…he was…for lack of a better term…”expelled”.

You see the School of Hope was a school for mentally and physically retarded children. Back then in 1980s, no one knew what autism was in Jamaica, so he was classified as mentally retarded and sent to that school where he was subsequently expelled because he became ‘violent to some of kids and adults”. It was no big deal to me as I said I was young not privy to all the info, it just meant he was always home now. 

The extent of this violence was hitting, biting and strategic scratching (‘scrabing’). I got my fair share of these as I shared a room and a bunk bed with him, and as with any siblings, messing with my stuff and me with his, the loud mumbling, singing certain parts of songs on the radio pretty loudly I might add led to most fights.

His outbursts would continue and intensify mostly from a bit of “family annoyance” and that we were not fully understanding his patterns. I got to understand that these outbursts stemmed from his frustrations of not being able to express himself to the degree that we readily understood.

People in the community would refer to him as my “mad brother”, of which I don’t really talk to anymore because clearly they’re idiots…but I was already selective in the people that I interacted with so that mattered not to me. And that’s how the general Jamaican public dismiss and label things they don’t really understand; homeless people are simply called “Mad Men”, people with any degree of a disability are call “Hhandycapp” and deaf people or any young person with a hearing aid are “Dummies”.  I’m not too upset with the labels because that’s part of our culture, the oversimplified labels for pretty much everything, but what it does do is it marginalizes people and their daily struggles, not seeing the ranges of disabilities or lack there of. 

The misdiagnosis all those years ago influenced how we approached his development, after the School of Hope there was nothing, no other academically incline option for him. It wasn’t until a couple years ago we recognize that he was autistic based on some research. We were worried mainly because though there might be more awareness of autism in recent times and they are schools and facilities being built to help as well as different programs being developed, these are mostly for young children up to 20 years old, My brother will be 35 years old in July.

Looking back I saw him as just another one of my many siblings, in a large family you are trying to find your own identity, purposes and quiet (God they’re a noisy bunch). Growing up I guess he was insulated by wonderful parents and cool enough siblings. He mostly taught himself to read; he writes with a stencil (which he doesn’t use anymore, but looking through his books you wouldn’t know); he documents and collect things and have them in chronological order which you don’t touch unless he shows it to you; he’s a very curious person and watches you like a hawk…then mimics you until he understands it; watches t.v. on mute (I think everyone should 😀, or not at all). He washes his own clothes and mine when I was living with him, no I didn’t ask nor did I stop him…until I realized my clothes were getting too clean and one of my blue shirts was on its way to being white with the amount of scrubbing, and I know I wasn’t that dirty.

I’m not sure why I wrote this or why I’m even sharing it, I still think this is mostly a family matter and I don’t trust people enough with the responsibility to fully understand unless you grew up with us, but I guess some people will see some sort of similarities in our experiences as we move to highlight and build awareness to all the lives that this mental condition affects.

And I’ve recognized that the highlight is mostly on the children with autism and not the adults that will have to deal the morality of life and its changes.





9 thoughts on “The older puzzle piece – my autistic story

  1. Love it Dre. Thanks for sharing. Autism is still widely misunderstood and feared by many. Awareness is key. The goal of most Autism programs is to help them communicate enough to be independent as well as find coping strategies and provide support and information for families. The knowledge is spreading but not quickly enough. Peace and Blessings to you and yours.

  2. Spot on Dre. We all knew we had to protect him not know full what his diagnosis. I never accepted the diagnosis os Marlon being a retard as that seemed so derogatory at the time. I realized from early on that although Marlon was different he was very intelligent. I remember when I became aware of Autism, I was like but that describes Marlon exactly. I knew he was not mentally retarded. But the resources did not exist in Jamaica to tap into the resources of these very exceptional people. When the “routine” began I being the eldest one started the pilgrimage to August town every morning to take Marlon to school. I would stay sometimes to watch the kids that were there and just looking on you would never know some of them were Autistic. I remember just looking on but not knowing what or if there was anything I could do to make a difference.
    I would upset me greatly when people would react negatively towards him. Then they would be all different when it was realized that he was not alone. One thing I remember though he was not treated differently by the immediate family, we just knew how he was and we just adjusted accordingly. As far as I know Marlon is functional he just needs someone “there” I have not met any one how washes better than him. Cleans house better than him. He’s very hands on, good with electronics and other trades he was exposed to thanks to the Big Man himself. My greates admiration was how he taught himself to read and right by muting the TV and watching the words on the closed caption. Then taking the news paper and transcribing the words in this book he had using the stencil. Then he stopped using the stencil and wrote jus as if he was using the stencil. I don’t think none of us was aware of what he was doing. He showed me his book one day, that was when I realized. I also realized he was sneaking into my room because he had a detailed drawing of my room “lol”
    His behavior seemed annoying at the time until we understood then “he” became our normal. I worry about him constantly

  3. Thanks for sharing. I have had quite a few cousins grow up with autism and I didn’t think of it until my son, now 5, was diagnosed. It’s tough, I know, but hang in there. They are our extra special blessings from God.

  4. This is moving and also you are right – a lot of focus is on children. My son cared for a severely autistic adult for a year or so. He said it really changed him, he understood so much more and became more patient. Much more needs to be done to help autistic adults in Jamaica. That’s for sure.

    1. Yes it does takes patience. I haven’t been the best in the taking care of part of late, but I’m recommitted to help the overall public know and understand…well as much as possible. Thanks for the words.

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