By Barb Arland-Fye
After living on his own for two years while completing community college, my son Patrick moved back home this academic year to attend St. Ambrose University in Davenport. To describe his older brother Colin’s reaction as ecstatic would be an understatement. Every evening Colin, who lives in an apartment, calls home because he wants to talk to Patrick. If Patrick isn’t home, we have to promise that he will call Colin later. The litany of questions goes like this: “How was school today, Patrick?” “Do you have a hockey game?” “Will I see you on Saturday for church?” “Will you go out to dinner with us on Sunday?”
With growing patience, Patrick responds to the repetitive questions that Colin’s autism triggers. When my husband Steve and I took a vacation, alone for the first time in 20 years Patrick took Colin to Mass on Saturday night and on Ash Wednesday while we were gone. On Valentine’s Day, Colin presented his brother with a hand-made Valentine with Patrick’s name accented in glitter. Steve and I didn’t receive Valentines from Colin; his gesture toward his brother filled the bill.
Patrick would be the first to admit his relationship with Colin has room to grow. “I don’t think any relationship with siblings is perfect,”
Patrick says. “We both get on each other’s nerves, and that’s a brotherly thing. It’s a work in process. You have to learn how to be around him, to understand why he does the things he does.”
My younger son has done some research on autism to help him better understand the disability. He also takes to heart advice from a doctor who explained that some people have different thought processes than others. “He’s my brother,” Patrick says of Colin. “I have to be there for him. If I don’t learn to talk to him, it’s going to make me less reliable for him. I want to be a better brother.”
The other day, Colin called home distressed that his Internet connection had gone down. Patrick tried to talk with him calmly, and that’s a big help. It didn’t solve the problem, but it alleviated some of the anxiety.
Colin has a habit of asking the same questions of everybody, even when they’re standing next to each other and he already knows the answer. All of us, at times, lose our patience. But Patrick strives to remind himself of the function of Colin’s repetitive questions. “He has to make sure that what’s going to happen is absolutely the case, that people are going to be there,” Patrick said. “It’s reassuring to him to hear everybody say it.”
What Patrick appreciates most about Colin is “that he really loves his family. He does not like to see people in this family upset. He wants to be a part of this family. He loves being a Fye. I think he’d make the Fye ancestors happy because he loves being a Fye.”
Patience and mercy are integral elements of this Year of Mercy, and they figure prominently in Patrick’s relationship with Colin. “If you’re not patient with him, it makes things worse. With mercy, you have to understand he does not have the same thinking process as we have. It requires us to realize that we’re on this earth to help people out.”
(Barb Arland-Fye, Editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)