Dear Richard Madeley: My disabled brother is being excluded by our family

Lonely man staring outside the window
'I hate the thought of this lovely guy being left out by his own family' - E+

Dear Richard,

My brother has learning disabilities and autism. He lives semi-independently in community accommodation. He holds down a job, can use transport, is interested in sport and arts and generally copes fantastically well. He is quiet, however, and has some personal mannerisms that mark him out as different.

What bothers me is that our wider family don’t accept him. They are visibly uncomfortable in his presence and won’t help to make him part of things. One example was when I was providing care to our terminally ill mother, they wouldn’t take him to a family event because ‘he wouldn’t be comfortable’. He’d have been fine; it’s they who’d have been uncomfortable.

My mother would be heartbroken by this; I am just angry. I hate the thought of this lovely guy being spurned by his own cousins etc, just because they don’t know how to relate to him. I am wondering how and what to say. Or should I say anything at all?

-Louis, via telegraph.co.uk

Dear Louis,

Yes, you damn well should. This calls for a family summit, with you in the chair. Do you have what it takes to do that? If you’re not sure you do, is there someone you can call on to back you up, ideally another family member?

Because you are absolutely right, Louis: this needs fixing, sooner rather than later. As you say, your brother copes ‘fantastically well’ with his issues, but he needs the occasional arm to lean on. That’s what family is for.

Now, to tone and tactics. Abjure judgmentalism, criticism of the past, blame of any kind. You are where you are. This is about the future: getting it right from now on. If your family feel under attack, they’ll hunker down and become defensive, especially if secretly they feel an attack would be justified.

So, when you invite them to this ‘summit’ (perhaps done over Zoom or similar), emphasise the positives. Say you know they all want to assist your brother in any way they can and that this almost goes without saying.

You simply want to chat about the best ways to do this, collectively, as a family.

It’s basic psychology, Louis. Invite them, don’t hector them, into helping. Ask for ideas and suggestions. Involve them, don’t lecture them. Praise all and any positive comments.

Work the room. You can do this!

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