DEAR AMY: Growing up, my 36-year-old brother always acted strangely, but we always chalked it up to the fact that he was shy. As he got older, we said he was just a loner. But now that I know more about autism, I believe he may have had this condition his whole life. As an adult, he hardly interacts with the family — and when he does, he hardly makes eye contact, talks in a monotone, rarely smiles (even when talking about happy topics), and always seems uncomfortable. The family always invites and includes him, but most of us feel uneasy about reaching out to him. He lives a good life as a single man. He has a steady job and bought a condo. Should I just let things continue the way they are, or should I mention my suspicions of his autism to him or the family?
DEAR CURIOUS: I can’t definitively identify or diagnose autism spectrum disorder in this context (or any other), but based on what you describe, it does sound as if your brother might be “on the spectrum.”
Identifying his tendencies and behavior and assigning a name to it might provide you with some insight and (hopefully) understanding and additional compassion toward your brother, who seems to do well, despite his challenges.
You could explore your theory by reading up on Asperger’s syndrome and autism spectrum disorder. There is a growing body of accessible materials available that will help you to understand qualities and traits that people with ASD have.
If you choose to share this with your brother, make sure you do so with an open mind and heart. Don’t present this information to him as: “Now I know what’s wrong with you.” Say, “This material helped to give me insight, and I thought you’d be interested, too.” He may not be interested in pursuing this insight or a diagnosis, but knowing more could help you to understand his particular gifts, tendencies and challenges.
DEAR AMY: I am grieving and don’t know what to do. I was my father’s guardian — at his request — the last five years of his life. Two of my siblings were upset about his decision and spent those five years inventing ways to discredit me. My other two siblings were happy it was me — and not they — who had the responsibilities. Our father’s last five years were uneventful and he died in his sleep three years ago at the age of 90, leaving us each a generous inheritance. Since then, one sibling who fought me died, and one who supported me also died. My surviving siblings and I are in our 60s; our children are in their 40s. We are at a stalemate — the animosity expressed on one side of the family is palpable; the love on the other is constant, but it’s not enough. Somebody suggested mediation and everyone, except me, rejected it. I am haunted by the hatred I have endured these past years, and plagued by sleepless nights. How can I move on?
DEAR GRIEVING: You have experienced so much loss over the last three years — of course you feel sad, spent and depressed. Loss is the special burden of those of us on the far end of middle age, and it can knock a person flat.
You are ruminating on all of these relationships that resist resolution, but you need to understand that many relationships simply remain challenging, despite efforts on your end to repair them.
You can advocate for mediation and communication, but if your siblings won’t participate, you’ll be left holding the ball — frustrated and sad.
Because of this, you should seek help for yourself. A compassionate counselor and/or grief group will help you to unpeel the layers of these interlocking relationships. A support group can help to contextualize your grief. Many (if not most) families are locked into various alliances; the illness and death of a parent can unleash harsh animosities. Talk, cry, write about it and think of this as something to “go through,” not “get over.”
DEAR AMY: I didn’t like the way you answered “Disapproving Wife,” whose husband was giving a (so-called) homeless man who was allegedly “dying,” a beer and a sandwich every day. I’m sure that nice guy was being played, and I can’t believe you didn’t notice that.