When I finished writing last week's column, “A Job Worth Doing,” I had two seemingly disparate thoughts in my mind. First, I thought, I'm so glad I'm addressing the issue of adult autism employment as it pertains to siblings! I'm happy to be sharing ideas and brainstorming ways for siblings to offer support! But then I thought, Oh dear, now that I've taken the time to draw up a kind of “road map” for the process, will I actually follow through with it? Will any other siblings? In that moment, it was clear: While I certainly can't control other people's responses, I can control my own. I can make sure that the words aren't hollow; I can choose to follow through.
That said, it's completely understandable to me that some siblings won't feel led to engage in this type of effort. Perhaps their lives and families prevent them from diving into the employment foray alongside their brothers and sisters. But I recognize that I'm at a point in my life in which I can offer help to my brother, to our family. I'm a writer. I run my own business, work from home, and enjoy a flexible schedule. To be sure, there's plenty of work to be done, but then, that's always the case. And I can only imagine how much busier and more complex my life might become if or when children come into the picture. If there's ever a time for me to step up, it's now.
Yet it isn't really a “stepping up” … it's more like a surrender. For some time, I've felt a tugging at my heart. If I had to put it into words, it would go something like: You're following your dreams at last, and now you have the flexibility and time to work with some of your family's bigger questions. Now you might actually work alongside Willie when it comes to employment. And with that, the light dawned: I can use this space to hold me accountable, and to document the journey. This column will protect me from procrastination. (Sometimes, a weekly deadline is a beautiful thing.)
The first step? To let myself dream on Willie's behalf. To answer my questions from last week's column: “How does [Willie] most like to spend his time? If given free reign, what does he do? List enjoyable pastimes, activities, and skill sets.” Willie loves to laugh and play pranks. He might come downstairs with his shirt on backwards, or his shoes on the wrong feet. He values having a daily routine, a structure, but he also likes to be subversive and funny within that structure. He likes to read and study books, particularly volumes that allow him to learn more about key interests, such as foreign languages and dog breeds. He knows some French, Spanish, and Italian, and he's an excellent mimic. He can imitate accents and sounds with precision.
He enjoys watching videos and computer time. Willie memorizes the end credits from movies and types them out; he plays a particular song over and over until he can pick out the tune on his piano. He has a piano lesson once per week, and he practices faithfully. His current favorite piece? “Ave Maria.” He can operate every TV, VCR, or DVD player he encounters, usually within seconds. He can focus on one thing for an extended period of time, but physical activity is also important for his happiness and mood management. He enjoys walking the family dog, Chevy, swimming, biking, skiing, bowling, and weightlifting. He's in his element in the water, and he won't come out of the pool or ocean until long after everyone else does. He needs time alone, but he also needs to feel like a part of the group.
How might these distinctive traits and abilities lead to a job? I'm not sure yet. But setting these things down makes me smile; the list reminds me of how special Willie is. As I often say to him, “Willie, you're my favorite brother.” To which he replies, “Caroline, you're my favorite sister!” It doesn't really matter that it's just the two of us. What matters is that we choose each other.