When I was born, my uncle, David, was only eleven years old. I never realized he would become one of my closest friends, and an inspiration to me. David’s story is a unique one, just as is all stories of people with autism. David also has cerebral palsy. To fully understand autism, a person has to understand that they, too, are individuals.
Growing up with David was so typical that I failed to realize he was different from me. In my early years, I thought I was the one who was different than everyone else, and David was neuro-typical. My grandmother worked in a living center for people with disabilities. I grew up spending several days a week with the people in the living center. Grandma was a cook and could take me to work with her if I wanted to go. Needless to say, I always wanted to go. My closest childhood friends were people with developmental disabilities, and my uncle, David.
At home, David would hum and rock. He would pace the floors and get aggravated if people messed with his stuff. David had problems reading, but he could read. He had no problems, though, with math and numbers. David knows all of the birthdays and anniversaries of all of the people in the family. He can do difficult calculations in his head. However, David still had trouble writing and tying his shoes. Things that were easy for me seemed to be difficult for him, but things that were difficult for me seemed to be easy for him. I was perplexed by our differences, but I knew that we complemented one another.
Not until middle school did I realize David was not like other people his age. I did not realize it the way other people would. Thinking back, I think it was because I was too close to the autism. I was the niece of a person with autism, and I did not realize that people with autism did not exist in every family.
Anyway, David was driving us to school because we lived a little way from the school. I played the Bass Clarinet, and it was too heavy for me to carry to school if I walked. The case of the instrument was heavier than the instrument itself. I could not take the instrument to school on my bicycle because it was too bulky. Therefore, David offered to drive us to school.
We excitedly rode to school in the backseat of David’s banana yellow Grenada. I gave David a big hug good-bye and barreled out of the car towards the steps of the entryway. The weather was still warm so I had left the windows down in David’s car. As I approached the boys lounging on the steps of the entryway, one of them yelled to David, “Retard!” The other boys laughed and circled me. They danced around me singing, “Pam’s got a retarded uncle… Pam’s uncle is a retard… retard, retard, your uncle is a retard… no man will ever marry you because you will have retarded babies…” I broke from the center of the circle and ran away as fast as I could with tears rolling down my cheek.
I never asked about David not being neuro-typical, because I never realized he wasn’t. I do not know today if I was more upset because of being teased or because I saw the saddened look on David’s face when that boy yelled ‘retard.’ I could tell he was hurt and bothered by it. From that day on, David dropped me off across the street of the school. I do not know if it was because his feelings were hurt, or if it was like he said, “I don’t want the boys to pick on you because of me.” I really believe it was because he did not like to see me cry.
As the years passed and I began to mature, the bond between the two of us grew weak. I became interested in boys and was very involved with school. I played in the band, was in basketball and track, and I worked as a waitress. David married my dad’s cousin, Donna, (no blood relation, my mom is David’s sister), and he became involved in his own life. David owned his house, and he worked in the kitchen of a cafe. Donna is also a person with a disability.
Although our bond was weakened, it was still there, and it was never severed. We visited occasionally, and would frequent each other’s place of business. I would hang out at his house when I had time, and David would tell me Donna and he wanted a baby. He said they wanted a girl, and they were going to name her Laura (after one of Donna’s nieces) Nanette (after me).
Unfortunately, David and Donna divorced after several years because she could not handle the isolation that David craved. The routines and collections also seemed to be a problem for her. As for me, I graduated high school, went to business school, married an abusive man and soon divorced him, joined the Army and got a medical discharge, experimented with drugs, and met the man of my dreams during my darkest hours. Within a year, my man and I married. Two months later I gave birth to my first son, Damien. This is where our story begins….