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‘How Wonderful the Unknown Must Be’: A Letter to my Brother

Caroline McGraw is a would-be childhood paleontologist turned storyteller, digging for treasure in people with autism and intellectual disabilities (and empowering caregivers to do the same).

Caroline blogs at A Wish Come Clear and serves as a columnist and features writer for Autism After 16. Her new book, I Was a Stranger to Beauty (ThinkPiece Publishing) is now available as a Kindle Single on Amazon. Readers are also invited to receive a complimentary copy of Caroline's digital book, Your Creed of Care: How to Dig for Treasure in People (Without Getting Buried Alive via A Wish Come Clear.


Dear Willie,

Happy 2013! I don’t know what’s to come in the New Year, but because of you, I’m better equipped to deal with the uncertainty. After all, how can we expect to know the future when we so rarely know what’s going on within our own minds? And yet we sense the beauty in all that we don’t fully understand. As Faith Jegede said in her 2012 TED talk, “Autism Through a Sibling’s Eyes,” “... How little we know about the mind, and how wonderful the unknown must be.”

When I was a child, my fondest dream was that I’d someday be able to have a ‘real’ conversation with you. I dreamed of asking you insightful questions such as, “Do you really like Cheerios best?”

When I was a teenager, my fondest dream stayed the same. But it was also fueled by crisis; I wanted answers so that I could protect you from yourself. I wanted to ask, “What’s going on in your mind when you have these violent, self-injurious meltdowns? Is there a way to prevent them?”

However, I was desperate for more than strategy; I was starving for reassurance that you weren’t lost to us. If given the opportunity to pose a single question to you during that difficult time, it probably would have been, “Is the brother I know and love still here, or have these rages consumed you?”

Now that I am an adult, my dream is the same as it always was. I want to be able to communicate with you, without barriers. But as I write this letter to you today, I know something I didn’t know before:  My dream has already come true.

I didn’t realize this at first. You see, I love words, so I always imagined us speaking in sentences to communicate. Yet thanks to you, I’ve come face-to-face with the inadequacy of language.

As you’ll recall, our most recentrealconversation featured very few words. We simply sat side-by-side in the house where we grew up, looking at a dictionary of dog breeds together. I asked you questions about your favorites, then fell silent. You turned the pages, and I read over your shoulder.

Tears come to my eyes every time I think about this simple moment. Why? Because between the lines, I was saying, “I’m meeting you where you are, even though you sometimes still hurt yourself and us, because I love you,” and you were saying, “I’ll show you these dog pictures and let you interrupt my alone time, because I love you too.”   

Thanks to you, I have learned to look between the lines. I have learned to listen more closely, to sense everything that can’t be put into words. And that, my brother, is the best gift you could have given me. Thank you.



The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.