Reflections on Autism and Brotherly Love

Reflections on Autism and Brotherly Love’m the brother of 54-year-old Colin (or Codge, as he’s been known since a kid). He lived with my Mam, Marion Rose, from the day he was born in her bedroom until the day she sadly died a few years ago at the age of 81 in the same house in Leeds.

My mother cared for Colin (solo, since my dad died 21 years ago) and only went into care for short periods of respite as she got older. Codge was always bit of a handful, profoundly autistic, and a bit of a free spirit (“wild” as a kid, we used to say) who liked to do things his own way. Mam got on with it “head down and battle through,” like a lot of working class ladies had to do in those days.

Help gradually got better—attitudes changed as more people realized it was not a “handicap” to be born different and, with help, those born different could live fulfilling lives.

But Mam was always too proud to ask for too much help, brought up in an age when “charity” was distrusted and looking after your own was the thing you had to do. “I’ll look after him while I drop,” she used to say, and she did, like the old warhorse she was.

Colin is now living in sheltered housing in Leeds, or independent living, as they say. He seems happy and we are keeping our promise to Mam to make sure he gets the things he wants and needs.

I’ve written a poem based on the story Mam told me years ago about how the consultant diagnosed Codge as autistic in 1966. She said autism was blamed on the mother, or so it seemed in those days. The poem highlights the change in attitude toward people with autism since his diagnosis more than 50 years ago.

His Shield
‘You’ve always known he was retarded,’
Mr. B said, sarcastic Mam remembers.
Walked home in the rain crying,
brother Codge was three.

Next appointment Dad went too,
a day off work, no pay.
Mr. B was all charm,
but no help at all.

‘One in ten thousand,’
Doctor Watson told Mam.
Local practitioner, with detached sympathy,
‘It’s not going to be easy.’

It wasn’t, it isn’t.
Five, fifteen, fifty years,
she fought, she struggled,
protecting against the world.

She’s still there,
Getting angry, giving love,
Protecting with her power,
But she’s feeling old.

Tony Rymer, 57, is a print technical manager born and living in Leeds, West Yorkshire, UK. He is happily married to Julie with a 23-year-old daughter and twin 22-year-old stepsons. He wrote this poem about his brother, Colin, who has autism.

This article was featured in Issue 65 – Back-To-School Transitions