Julian wanted to go to our community pool, in fact he’d already donned his swim trunks, flip-flops and located his goggles. The last of that trio being nearly essential for his enjoyment in the water. We had already promised him he could go so he was just waiting for Martina and me to gather ourselves so that we could all go, Jared included. It is a rare summer day that Julian doesn’t want to go for a swim. He has always loved the water, everything about being in close proximity to a pool, ocean, lake, etc. brings him joy.
I recall a vacation trip to a coastal resort that really drove home this point. We’d spent the entire day, emphasis on the word entire, on the beach. That evening, after dinner, Julian settled in on the balcony of our oceanfront condo and took in the waves, sound and wind, for hours. He was content to simply sit there, watching and listening well into the night. Some experts believe that the affinity persons with autism have for the water has to do with the sensory pleasure from the total immersion in something that doesn’t push back. Others posit that the dramatic decrease in noise while underwater is especially soothing to them. In or out of the water Julian is happy as long as he’s near it.
With that in mind you can understand how anxious Julian was for us to get going. At that moment I decided to try something different. “Why don’t you and Jared go? Mom and I will stay here.” This caught both boys off guard. Previously a trip to the pool always included either Martina or me, most times the both us. But, at eighteen, we must allow Julian more opportunities to take “small steps” towards independence. Plus we thought it would be good for both our sons.
Jared, who is now sixteen, has lived with Julian’s autism for nearly all his life. While he has done a good job of trying to understand, and adapt to, his brother’s differences it has not been easy for him. Sometimes they argue and fight. While not uncommon among siblings, especially teenage boys, these disagreements occasional lay bare the frustration Jared feels, at times, with Julian. One particular instance, after hearing some very loud bumping and shouting, I found myself upstairs separating the two.
I sent Julian to his room then addressed Jared. Sometimes it can be hard to trace the origin of the argument when Julian is involved. Such was the case that evening. I reminded Jared of the myriad conversations we’d had about the high tolerance and patience levels required on our part (this included him) when Julian is upset. At that point it didn’t matter so much who was at fault as it did how Jared handled the situation. This is the part of the equation that would seem unfair to Jared, but it goes to the very nature of him being the brother of someone with autism. The burden of resolution falls more on him than Julian. Not the easiest concept for a typical sixteen year old to accept.
It’s not that Julian gets a free pass. We make sure that he fully understands the consequences of his actions and realizes he will be held accountable. It’s just that “in the heat of the moment” diffusing a situation is more likely to come from the person without autism. As Jared and I talked about this his eyes welled up and he released.
“Dad why does he act like that? Sometimes I think he hurts our family? He makes me so mad sometimes. This just isn’t fair.”
I listened and allowed him to get it all out. Then, with my arm around him, I asked him to put himself in Julian’s place. Did he think his brother’s true intent was to cause problems for us? Could he conceive of living life in a world that is not designed with someone like him in mind? What if he were eighteen(like Julian) and had never been able to even approach a girl and have a sustained conversation with her?
Our discussion went on for about thirty more minutes. I offered no easy answers but assured Jared that the strongest bond our family has is our love for each other and that was unbreakable, no matter what disagreements arose. As I left his room and descended the stairs I heard him walk into Julian’s room and apologize, interestingly Julian reciprocated.
So, my descision to send them off (to the pool) together was a way of forcing them to talk a little more and continue to find ways to connect with each other. About an hour and a half later I looked out the front window to see them walking back. Laughing and at ease with one another. Brothers. Later, when I asked Jared how it went he said it was good.
“Dad, we actually had a cool conversation, we talked about Disney animation and girls. It was really nice. I was kinda surprised.”
“That’s nice, glad the two of you could hang out and enjoy each other. All it took was a little effort.”
“He really is special. I want you to know I’ll always be there for him.”