'Living with a brother who has autism is like a blessing and a curse' - Fiach (16) on life with his brother Caoimh (13)
Sixteen-year-old Fiach Connolly opens up about his brother Caoimh (13), who lives with severe autism and until last year, was unable to communicate beyond basic needs and wishes.
Thanks to a revolutionary teaching technique called the Rapid Prompting Method (RPM), which involves pointing with a pencil at letters on a large metal stencil, Caoimh is among the first few thousand non-verbal people in the world to achieve real communication.
Fiach says: "Living with a brother who has autism is a blessing and a curse.
"For months at a time, Caoimh could be an absolute angel child. Barely causing any trouble, he would make everyone in my family happier. He would hum instead of shout, skip instead of stomp, hug instead of hit. But then I'd wake up and find my brother has been replaced by some sort of evil doppelganger - one that is no longer a sweet, loving kid, but a screaming, aggressive madman.
"In my opinion, a lot of this anger comes from the frustration of not being able to communicate with people. For the first 13 years of his life, Caoimh's only way to talk with us was the word 'no', pointing and PECS. This is a method of communication in which he has a folder with pictures of food, activities, facilities etc that he gives us to tell us what he wants. However, it lacked the depth that he needed to express himself. Then we came across RPM.
"RPM (Rapid Prompting Method) is a fantastic method of communication. It involves my mother sitting with Caoimh and holding up a letter board. On it is the entire alphabet. Caoimh uses a pencil to point out what letter he wants and my mum writes it down. Letter by letter, word by word, Caoimh can start sharing what is on his mind. The goal is that he'll be able to type independently on a device.
"Now that Caoimh has become proficient at talking to my mum like this, I can soon start learning how to communicate with him using the same method. Knowing that Caoimh and I have a future where we can talk to each other is an absolute game-changer.
"Caoimh's odd behaviour has led to some amusing circumstances. One time, he was bouncing on his trampoline, when all of a sudden he was desperate for a drink. He jumped off the trampoline and sprinted inside, where he locked his eyes on a glass vase holding flowers. Before my mum could stop him, he ripped the flowers out, flung them across the kitchen and chugged down half the water in the vase.
"Living with Caoimh has many challenges, but it also has many upsides.
"I love him like anyone loves their siblings."