I haven’t written much here about my brother. It’s not because I have little to say; on the contrary, I feel words spilling over unless I hold myself very straight and stiff. Matthew is the sort of topic that engages the whole range of emotion with nothing in the middle. I rage. I laugh. I cry. I’m rarely sensible about him, and most of my attempts at being an unbiased party scatter like roof shingles in the winds of a hurricane. This entry will be difficult because I need to focus on one of his aspects: sleep.
My older brother Matthew is autistic, mentally disabled, and prone to seizures, among other things. On the low-functioning end of the scale, he has the understanding and scope of a very young toddler. He was diagnosed when he was young, but it was in the 70s before current research and movements. I don’t honestly know if even current knowledge would have helped him; he rarely shares the same world as me despite the fact that we grew up together, and live together now.
He doesn’t sleep. Matthew might nap for an hour or two, but as soon as he opens his eyes in the middle of the night, chaos follows. He eats things he shouldn’t: whole sets of sheets. A thumb tack. Cat food. If it’s immediately available, he eats it. When that entertainment fades, he’ll find other ways to dull the boredom by making loud moans and creaks with his mouth. If that fails, he has other resources: getting up and wandering around the house. Peeling wallpaper from the wall. Wetting the sheets. All these things – they feel private to discuss. They shouldn’t be. They’re facts of life, and for all the autism “awareness” that I see in sticker forms on the backs of cars, the current face of autism looks nothing like my brother.
Matthew has kept all three of us awake the last few nights. I am bone-tired. My eyes blur and ache. And I wonder if I should bother going to bed early tonight, because as surely as I put Matthew to bed – he’ll wake us up at 1am instead of 3am. It’s a gamble.
This insomnia isn’t unusual, but it’s worsening. We’ve recently changed around some of his medication, so adjustment is to be expected. When he does sleep, he curls into a tight, uncomfortable ball and you wonder: how is that restful?
When Matthew wakes up, I think he thinks I’m just a reoccurring dream come back to stand over his bed.