Would you say that people around you, know that your brother has autism?
Catstead: Yes, a lot of my friends know. I don’t usually speak about my brother because he is quite young. When I do mention him, they usually go, “Oh, you have a younger brother, ok”; but my family is all very aware. They are fine with it and it’s normal for us. My nieces who are two and four years old, don’t understand it yet. Educating them is a bit harder, in comparison to speaking with an adult about Autism Spectrum Disorder. [ASD]
When you are in a family outing, do the people around you notice, or say anything, or he is like every other 11 year old?
He blends in. When he was a lot younger we couldn’t take him to places because he would have meltdowns or hurt himself. It was hard to get him out of the house, but that would be the biggest challenge and difference. People would look and say, “Look, that kid is having a tantrum” but in reality, he is dealing with a lot more than that.
As he has gotten older, we go out for dinners, go to the theme parks, if he wants to go. He has learnt a lot of management skills, so he does great and I am super proud of him. I don’t overload him ever, it’s more about being around too many people, that does it for him, (I think.)
You mentioned before about a meltdown. Could you explain what a meltdown looks like, from your perspective? And what do you feel in those situations?
When he was younger, before he was diagnosed, he would have very physical meltdowns. He would bash his head against things, on the floor or on the walls, basically anything. We used to hold him, and I guess that for someone who doesn’t know that this child has ASD, that would be so much more than just that for him.
Now that he is older, he has “teenage” temper tantrums. He is dealing with a lot of emotions. Telling people, he hates them is a big one at the moment. He will just scream. There is a lot of verbal anguish for him that he is dealing with. If he loses a game of Minecraft, or if the battery of his iPad dies, it’s not a full-blown meltdown, but it is enough for us to be frustrated, that he is frustrated.
Do you have any other siblings?
I am one of six children. My twenty-year-old brother has Aspergers and James has ASD. So, both of my brothers are affected by autism.
Would you say that your younger brother is quite similar to how you and your other siblings grew up?
No, definitely not. My brother was born like a methamphetamine baby, so his development was very stagnant. He wasn’t diagnosed until he was three or four, and we were told that he’d always be non-verbal, that he’d never speak. When he was about five, he went into my father’s custody, that is when he started talking. My mother was very neglectful of the diagnosis, she didn’t care whatsoever. When he started to live with his dad, he was put into remedial therapy, speech therapy, food therapy then he started speaking. His language is still in a developmental stage. He’s got a very big speech impediment. If you aren’t familiar with his way of speaking, you generally would not know what he is saying. His family still understands him. Going from that, to this, is monumental. He is very different to how we all grew up, and him going into the teenage years, I think, that is going to be a little bit hard for him. He is like us, we treat him like the rest of us and I think that is what is important for him.
What is something that he has done that you are proud of?
Just everything! [laughs] When he went from special education into mainstream school, when he was ready to be put into a mainstream class, that was just really awesome! Recently, his last school holidays trip, he was here for 3 weeks, and he was actually telling me about friends that he has made, and was the first time that he’d ever spoken about friends. It was so cool! I mean, he bores them to death with comments about the Titanic. [laughs]
Is that his special interest?
Yes, it was Doctor Who at first and that I loved, he would sit to watch YouTube videos. But, now that is the Titanic, I tell him, “James, the Titanic was devastating! It is a really good piece of engineering and transport, but do you remember what happens at the end? What happened to the boat? Or are you skipping that part?” I hope he is skipping the end, because for eleven years old that is heavy, but that is his thing at the moment. I am hoping he moves on soon. [laughs] He goes into aeroplanes and engineering and stuff.
When people find out that your brother has autism, is there something that you wish they would say?
I wish more people would ask what it is, I think that there are lots of misconceptions about the origins of Autism, and the anti-vaxxers at the moment. I met a few anti-vaxxers whom are friends, who have told me that the reason why my brother has Autism, is because my mother vaccinated him. And to be honest, I don’t think that my mum did. It is just very frustrating, and I wish there were more open conversations, because my brother is fantastic and my partner absolutely loves him! He gets so upset when he finds out that he is here and he can’t come down to see him. I don’t know, because he is so young as well, I see him as an everyday kid, I guess. I don’t like when people are like, “Your brother is like really smart, isn’t he?” Well, yes and no, he does some very dumb things too.