My adventures working and travelling overseas culminated in meeting the woman of my dreams and becoming a New Zealand citizen in both a formal and metaphorical sense. It is such a cliche to say this, but I was one of those who truly found myself by travelling the world. The growth I experienced in my self-awareness and efficacy was exponential to use the most understated term. Combining my travel with a transformative experience at two separate New Zealand universities, Otago and Auckland, turned me into a significantly better version of myself. Before starting my travels, there was no reason or method for me to predict that I would eventually return home with a teaching degree and a passion for pedagogy. Little did I know that it almost seemed fated, particularly as it came to supporting my brother.
Over six years had passed since I had seen my family. Things were not well with them. Their health and finances were in a risky state, and my brother was at the end of his run with public schooling, an ominous time for any family whose child has complex needs. In contrast, I was thriving in New Zealand, having found my niche in educational academia, honoured to receive a Masters scholarship to continue my work in critical pedagogies. I had also begun a family of my own. My wife and I had created a beautiful little creature, our first of three children to come. She was most certainly the apple of my eye, if not a bruised one, since she was incredibly colicky and exhausting to care for. Still, our challenges being young, first-time parents were nothing compared to what was going on back in my original home, The Great White North. Every time I called home, pangs of guilt electrocuted me through the phone line. At least for now, my academic career had to be put on hold. I had to decline the scholarship; it was time to go home to help my family.
From the moment my new young family and I stepped off the plane from the height of tropical, southern hemisphere summer into the grey, frigid reality of Toronto in January, things got very difficult. It was winter, and we were discontented. My brother was unrecognizable to me. He was physically massive, angry, and unstable. The light which beamed from his eyes as a chubby little boy had been replaced with an almost lobotomized, thousand yard stare. It was scary. All throughout his childhood, I was one of those people who could instantly make my brother happy; his idol, his leader. But now, he acted as though I was a complete stranger to him.
I’ll never forget the day when, for no apparent reason, he went up to my 1-year-old daughter and pushed her to the ground, incredibly perturbed about something no one else but he could understand. Being so stunned and angered by this incident, I had to get physical with him. I wondered to myself, “Am I going to have to fight my baby brother today? Will I have to fight with him every day?”
At this stage, I knew literally nothing about autism except for Hollywood portrayals like Rain Man. Even in the nineties, the diagnosis seemed far less common than today. Combine that with my parents having English as an exceptionally second language, and it meant two decades raising an autistic boy included absolutely zero awareness or strategies on how to help him. So, it was time for me to have a serious crash course. Oh, and I needed to find a job to pay the rent. If I were to tell you that my first full-time, public school job included teaching a student that was almost identical in exceptionalities to my own brother, you’d probably accuse me of writing a fictional tale with a too-perfect narrative arc, yes? Well, life sometimes has fun with you like that.