I hope to give you an insight into why I bought a Virtual Brick 4 Autism (Staffordshire Adults Autistic Society’s fund-raising campaign) — and why the A to Z of Autism & the Autistic Spectrum is near and dear to my heart — by sharing a letter to my nephew with you.
Today you are 18! (I can hear you thinking: “state the obvious much?”) I’ve already said Happy Birthday, but the card didn’t give enough room for your doting but verbose auntie to tell you exactly how much and some of the for-why’s.
I love interacting and spending time with you, Luke, always have. You give me great joy and teach me so much, about cognition, language, the human condition, things dear to my heart as a semiotician. Wow! that sounds grandiose, but it’s true.
You know I bang on about each and every child being an enrichment to all who interact with him or her. You, my nephew, like my own bairns, started teaching me from the very beginning of your life. So it’s inevitably that I reflect today on all those mushy things, AKA the “firsts”: step, word, day at school, hols away from home w/out the ‘rents, girlfriend, time driving the car. (Don’t know if you were aware, but I relearnt praying as the result of trying to teach your cousin how to drive.)
What I’m not sure of is if you remember are some of the early signs of your utter uniqueness. At first these worried your mum – and the rest of us, to be honest. It took us too long to figure out what was going on for you. You seemed to inhabit a slightly different world to that of your cousins. In part that was as to be expected; you lived in a different household and went to different schools.
Perhaps out of all of us in the extended family, you can remember some of those first I mentioned earlier, like the first days at playgroup. That was when there was a truly noticeable developmental between you and your cousin Eilidh. The two of you have been more like siblings-at-a-distance than cousins, inseparable when together. It’s a joy to see that this has been the case for all of your 18 years.
And yet way back when we observed that whilst Eilidh loved playgroup, revelling in new pals, different toys and books and spaces; you seemed kinda indifferent, choosing to play with toys over the other tots in the group. Your mum thought that as an only and a boy, you needed more time and encouragement to be social and sharing and cooperative, etc., etc. But the more you socialised – at school, on playdates – the more often that blank look seemed to appear on your face.
I’m sorry to say that we were a bit slow on the uptake and somewhat ignorant. You weren’t an attention-seeker, at least no more than your cousins were. You weren’t refusing to give up being the centre of attention. You were looking at the world in a different way. Some of that world – specially the social aspects – just didn’t make sense to you.
As you know, that different way was given a name when you were about 8 years old: Asperger’s. Thank heavens you have never felt or thought of it as a label. But, geezo, it was a convoluted process for you and your parents.
You also know I’m a bit of a language geek (understatement). What you might not have realised is that you are right up there with Jung, Barthes, John Berger and Chomsky in terms of linguistic-philosophically illuminating moments in my life. Your uniqueness and the cognitive challenges you face both deepened and broadened my understanding how and why language (and the interpretation of signs) is so central to being human.
Luke, I feel you’ve made me a bit of a mensch in a world that is crying out for more understanding, more empathy, more humanity. On this, your 18th birthday, I’m forever thankful for you, as well as being so damned glad you weren’t born in the 80’s when designer labels were all the rage.
Amor, salud y pesetas, guapo.*
Okay, peeps. I’m glad I’ve shared this with you. I hope it helps give a tiny wee insight into Asperger’s. So, now illuminated, I encourage you all:
G’wan, share the love, be a brick! Buy a Virtual Brick 4 Autism. S’easy: just follow this link and, well, just give.
PS: Thank you, Kevin and SAAS, for giving me this opportunity.
*Traditional Spanish blessing: ‘Love, health & wealth’