Lessons from Noah

A 12-year-old reflects on the things his younger brother, who has autism, has taught him

Danette Dooley danette@nl.rogers.com
Published on August 1, 2011
(From left) Twelve-year-old Douglas Hanlon and nine-year-old Noah Hanlon are shown with Noah’s stuffed animals from his favourite television show “Lilo and Stitch.” — Photo by Danette Dooley/Special to The Telegram

Twelve-year-old Douglas Hanlon says his family was “a little sad” when they found out that his younger brother, Noah, has autism. Noah was three when he was diagnosed. He’s nine now and the family lives in St. John’s.

“Noah was not like other children so the diagnosis was a bit of a relief and we did learn how best to cope with his disability,” said Douglas.

“When we first found out he was diagnosed with autism, he used to spit a lot. And he used to bite people. But that didn’t last very long, thankfully.”

Douglas said because children with autism can be very trusting, it’s important to think carefully about what you say to them.

“We could tell Noah to be careful, that his soup will burn his mouth off, and he might actually think his mouth is going to melt off,” he explained.

“So we’ll just say, ‘Be careful, the soup is hot.’”

When asked how Noah is different from himself and his 15-year-old brother, Tyler, Douglas said Noah has habits most children don’t have.

For example, Noah waves his arms and hops around a lot when he’s excited.

People know he’s different but they don’t understand why, Douglas said.

Noah also often repeats questions before he answers them.

“What grade am I going to? I’m going to Grade 3 at Roncalli Elementary,” he says when asked.

His favourite television show is “Lilo and Stitch,” he loves playing games at Camp Discovery, and growing peppers, corn, tomatoes and other vegetables in the garden.

“What else do you grow, Noah?” Douglas asks.

“I grow celery,” Noah answers.

“And what else …” Douglas says. “We got white ones last year and orange ones this year.”

“Pumpkins!” Noah replies.

Noah is friendly, sweet and intelligent. While he was late talking, he’s made up for lost time.

Autism affects 1 in 100 children and is four times more prevalent in boys than in girls, said Trish Williams, executive director of the Autism Society of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Research indicates there is a genetic predisposition to the disorder as well as some environmental influences, she said.

Noah’s dad, Brendan Hanlon, said the earlier a child with autism is diagnosed the earlier they can get help.

Noah gets extra attention from his teachers at Roncalli Elementary.

“We have a wonderful child psychologist, Dr. Victoria Crosbie, who has helped us a lot over the years,” Brendan said.

Douglas said he likes the way his younger brother tries to educate others.

“Something that really amazes me is that there are always kids that are more bad than others, shall we say. And Noah tries to educate them about good behaviour and bad. He’ll put on this voice and he’ll say, ‘You shouldn’t do that, you know. You really shouldn’t do that.’”

Having an autistic brother has taught him many things, Douglas said, the most important of which is that it’s wise to be patient.

“There’s a lot of jobs in the world where you’ve got to have a lot of patience. And I have that now,” Douglas said.

Douglas finished Grade 6 at Roncalli Elementary this year and won a public speaking contest for his speech about autism and his relationship with his brother.

A video of his speech is online at www.autism.nf.net

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