Sibling Back Story ……. By Devon Radtke

I remember going to daycare every morning with my brothers. I remember that daycare well. I remember the pride I felt because I was in kindergarten and would leave my little brothers behind to go across the street to school when the bus came.

I also remember Tristan asking every. single. morning where we were going, even though we were always going to daycare. I asked my parents why he did that and they said Tristan just liked to know.

I remember Tristan liked to smell everything.

I remember Tristan liked to bounce. He has always walked on spring-loaded toes. My grandmothers each admonished him for it and bemoaned the poor future of his feet if he didn’t start walking flat.

I remember Tristan hanging on the fringe of Damien’s and my games. As the oldest, I was ringleader and Damien was my second. Tristan was just there. He went along with everything, but his interaction was minimal. He was a skinny blonde shadow.

Tristan was my weird little brother, but I don’t ever remember thinking anything was wrong with him.

When Tristan got to school, his world changed. Instead of a twin brother and older sister that he knew well, he had strangers for peers. He had teachers who saw something unidentifiable in him and labeled it as a problem. He had to go to the nurse’s office every day to take his Ritalin.

When we began taking the bus home after school instead of going to latchkey, I remember Tristan had to watch Arthur at 4:00pm every afternoon. When I was in sixth grade, a friend introduced to me Pokémon, which was also on at 4:00. I very clearly remember Tristan’s behavior when Damien and I tried switching the channel on him to watch this new show. That was the first time I realized how important routine was to my brother.

My parents took Tristan off Ritalin while he was still in elementary school. I had moved on to the larger pastures of junior high. Even in separate schools, though, I heard stories about the weird little kid who danced around the playground and “ate woodchips.” He wasn’t eating them, he was tossing them and catching them, and it was no surprise that juggling was second nature to him. That was the first time I became defensive of my little brother.

Tristan was thirteen years old when he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. His unidentifiable “problem” that had been misdiagnosed as ADD/ADHD, and that we, his siblings, had seen as quirkiness, was featured on the cover of Time Magazine. My parents read the article. It was as if someone had invisibly been following Tristan without anyone’s knowledge and had then written exclusively about him. A psychologist confirmed my parents’ hunch. Suddenly Tristan was on the autism spectrum.

With a diagnosis comes help, right?

Not for Tristan. At the time of his diagnosis, Asperger’s Syndrome was relatively unknown. Autism was not yet in the center of the public eye. The resources available for autism spectrum individuals were limited and focused on young children. When Tristan was a young child, he was considered quirky, then hyperactive. No one was trained then to recognize Asperger’s presentation. When his behavior was eventually recognized for what it was, it was essentially too late. He was too old.

Tristan has seen counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists, but as a young adult. He has never been in a formal program for ASD. He was thrown into and has remained in the “mainstream.” He had an IEP for his misdiagnosed ADD, and he went to speech therapy for a lisp. No one taught him how to cope with the instability and volatility of the world. No one taught him how to read facial expressions or interpret the inflections of voice and body language. No one taught him how to navigate a conversation, or even how to control his own voice. Tristan cannot see the things we take for granted to help us navigate an unruly reality.

Tristan is not alone.

Young adults like Tristan float in a kind of limbo. They are “typical” enough to not be eligible for the help they need. There is no physical identifier for ASD like there are for other more widely recognized developmental disorders. Because they look “typical,” they’re expected to be “typical.”

And that’s where 9th Planet comes in. Using movie-expert Tristan’s video editing skills, 9th Planet™ videos demonstrate how social skills work in typical situations – in the classroom, at work, or in social settings. They explain the social “rules” that Typicals follow, in a way that teenagers and young adults enjoy and appreciate. And Tristan can help others like him deal with the oft-confusing Typical world.

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