Dude is my brother. Dude is not his real name. It’s a nickname. He has many nicknames, but Dude is the one we use most frequently. We have no idea how it originated, but we have been calling him Dude for many years.
Dude was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), which is on the autism spectrum, at the age of 2. His diagnosis came in the early ’90s when autism wasn’t nearly the buzz word it is today. The general population (and even some pediatricians) did not know what it was or what the characteristics were. All my mom knew was that her one-year-old son would rather be alone, he wouldn’t respond to his name, and he really liked clicking Fisher Price people together. My parents went through the tough process of getting a diagnosis, and then it was time to hit the ground running.
Dude did occupational, speech, sensory integration, and physical therapy coupled with discreet trial training in a home-based program for many years.
Dude was nonverbal for quite some time. He hummed. All the time. He would hum and press his hands up against his ears or press one ear into his shoulder and cover the other one with his hand. He also flapped his hands. He still does sometimes hum and flap when he’s particularly excited about something.
He hardly ever made eye contact. He didn’t give hugs. Didn’t offer to share things with you. He couldn’t bear to be on the same floor as everyone else during family parties. Actually.. he still doesn’t like family parties, but that’s not really different than anyone else, now is it? (Just kidding! I love my family!)
The various intervention therapies, along with Dude attending a private school for kids with special needs, helped. Now he’ll look you in the eye. He can use full sentences if you prompt him, but most of the time he’s lazy and uses short phrases. We can’t really have a “to and fro” conversation with him, which is particularly frustrating when he’s angry or upset or sick and can’t tell you why and what hurts.
Despite his limited communication skills, I swear there’s way more going on in that head than he lets on. Dude’s memory and ability to draw associations is astounding. Once, years after our parents had discontinued his home program, we were driving on a road that we used to take to the program coordinator’s house. We didn’t think Dude was really paying attention to where we were going until, suddenly, we heard from the back seat, “Soon we go to Susan’s house!” It had been YEARS since he had been there, but he remembered the drive perfectly.
Dude does therapeutic horseback riding. He used to attend weekly music therapy classes. He also participated in a bowling league. Friday nights are his “date nights” with respite workers. They typically go out to dinner, see a movie, go to an arcade, go bowling, etc. My family regularly jokes that Dude has a better social life than all of us put together.
One of his favorite things in life in music. I think he would stay in his room all day and listen to his radio or watch his DVDs of Drum Corps International and the Mighty Sound of Maryland. He doesn’t have the fine motor skills to play a musical instrument, but we’re convinced he has perfect pitch. He can harmonize to any song he hears. He’ll start singing harmonies that aren’t even in the song, but work with the music. It’s amazing and we’re all jealous of the skill.
He loves modulating sound. When he talks, he often does so in a sing-song voice. He likes inserting his favorite phrases in place of song lyrics while he’s singing along to music. He carries around a sound recorder which he calls “Alien” because it is shaped like an alien head. You speak into Alien and then turn the little nob to have your voice come out in slow motion or sounding like a chipmunk.
He is also a fan of the Phillies and Eagles.
As far as we can tell, Dude is a happy guy. Like any person, he has good days and bad days. There are days when everything we do makes him laugh and he’s really engaged and chattering away to himself or us. And then there are days when you have to ask him 5 times, “How was school?” before he’ll even look at you and maybe another 4 times before he gives his typical response, “Good.”
Overall, he makes us laugh. On a daily basis, he will say or do something that catches us off guard and reduces us to hysterics. One of Dude’s classic one-liners has the ability to cheer me up after a particularly tiring day.
And honestly, when you have a family member on the spectrum, what more can you do than look to the humorous side of things?