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Pete and Me: A Non-depressing Look at Autism and Family
“I’m afraid I’m going to die alone in Ottawa.”
Members of the audience shift uncomfortably in their seats, laughing nervously as Graham Kay stares back at us with a deadpan expression. He stands with a bit of a hunch, making himself smaller and easier to digest.
Graham explains that his parents are getting old and frail, and it makes him worried about his 39-year-old brother, Pete, who has autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and will need to be looked after for the rest of his life. He knows that when his parents die, he’ll have to take over as caregiver and this most likely means that he’ll have to move back to his hometown in Ottawa, Canada.
Graham, a stand-up comedian who also hosts an autism awareness podcast, doesn’t let the room fall into somber silence for long before he starts to crack jokes about his loud (often bickering) parents, who’ve been forced to buy Pete sunglasses because he won’t stop staring at people on the street. They’re afraid someone will call the cops.
Pete and Me is a clever and achingly raw look at what it’s like to grow up as the sibling of someone with a severe disability. The “one without autism,” whose mental health struggles are often misunderstood or overlooked altogether. Graham touches upon his own struggles with OCD and dyslexia, recalling an instance when his teacher misinterpreted his OCD symptoms as a sign of drug use, resulting in his shipment off to an intense bootcamp for troubled teens during his last two years of high school.
Through laughs and a few tearful anecdotes, Graham educates the audience about ASD. He notes the differences between being high-functioning and having a more severe form of the disorder. He describes the act of stimming and how it’s often used by people like his brother to self-soothe during a stressful situation. Graham explains that many individuals with ASD are highly sensitive to sensory stimulants, making simple tasks like going to the grocery store an overwhelming experience.
Using his brother as an example, Graham does a good job at explaining the dichotomy of being an adult with severe autism. Although Pete is a towering balding man approaching forty, inside he’s really a 10-year-old child who enjoys watching shows like Power Rangers and COPS, a Canadian animated show about a crime-fighting police task force.
It’s clear that Graham cares deeply for his brother, and he closes the show by sharing his belief that people like his brother are placed on this earth to teach people to be kinder and more patient. Caring for Pete has shown him how to be a decent human being and he’s no longer scared of being alone, because he knows that his brother will be by his side no matter what.
For more information about the show, Pete and Me, and where to see Graham Kay comedy, click here.
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