My Brother Charlie by Holly Robinson Peete and Ryan Elizabeth Peete, pictures by Shane W. Evans
I love this book! As the mother of a child on the autism spectrum, My Brother Charlie made me feel seen and less alone on the journey. The book is written from the perspective of Charlie’s twin sister who is not on the autism spectrum. Callie tries to understand Charlie’s behavior and recounts her parents’ odyssey trying to get Charlie the help he needs. At one point, a doctor tells Charlie’s parents that he will never have a spontaneous conversation with them and will never say “I love you”. His mother’s heart breaks. The book ends on an upbeat note – Charlie beats the odds and is able to do more than the doctors thought possible. Still, their journey is not unrealistic. Even though Charlie has made great strides, his sister notes, “It’s harder for him to make friends. Or show his true feelings. Or stay safe.” Callie explains some of Charlie’s behavior and asks readers to be kind and patient toward people who present differently, because you don’t know what issues they are grappling with.
Charlie’s sister’s perspective made a big impact on me. I constantly wonder what my older daughter’s experience is like having a little sister with autism. I grieve her loss of the opportunity to have a neurotypical sister who will play with her as robustly as she would like. But the reality is that my older daughter has gained so much from her quiet little sister. She helps with her therapies, guides her, plays with her and has already volunteered that she will take care of her after mommy and daddy go to see Jesus. Their bond is stronger than I ever could have imagined. It supersedes being playmates; they rely on each other. On my journey, I have learned that we are not the poorer for our child’s diagnosis and that disappointment, love and hope can all occupy the same space.
Having a book as a guide can be so helpful to families for whom the book is a mirror of their own lives. Although I have tried to explain her little sister’s condition to her, two days after reading My Brother Charlie, my oldest daughter came to me and said, “Now I understand why V doesn’t like it when we hug her. Charlie also…..” Callie, the twin sister in My Brother Charlie, made my daughter feel like she has an ally as she tries to work out the mysteries of her relationship with her own autistic sibling.
Holly Robinson Peete includes a short summary in the back of the book about her journey with her real life son. She talks about feeling hurt, angry and depressed when she first learned his diagnosis. For me, it was important to read about another parent’s initial reaction which was so close to mine. I often felt shamed in the childhood special needs community about being upset about my daughter’s diagnosis. I felt that parents were only allowed to be upbeat and enthusiastically embrace the developmental detour as one would embrace an accidental trip to Holland when one was planning to visit Italy. It took me years to arrive at a place of peace with autism and the gelatinous uncertainty it brings into our lives.
My Brother Charlie may help readers to better understand people with autism. It’s also an authentic and inspirational portrayal of one family’s ongoing journey with life on the spectrum.