I am going to be cryptic.
I think respecting privacy is an important part of being a respectful person.
I received an email from a reader about an email that she had received. Someone had written her who had become separated from his brother with an intellectual disability and who now wanted to try to reestablish a relationship. He asked her for advice. She asked me. I asked them both if I could answer that question here. They agreed.
It's important to note, however, that I've answered this question before. Most often from parents who lost touch with their children during the dark years of institutionalization. The question was always full of guilt and concern and heartache. The question was always asked with fear - fear of judgement for decisions made in the past. The question always touched me. I think that the opening of a heart is as beautiful as the closing of a heart is terrifying.
(Note to the fellow asking the question ... if this all looks daunting ...skip down to the summary below.)
These are my recommendations and I encourage you all to join in - remembering to be gentle and encouraging, even while being honest:
1) Examine Motives: It's important to know why you want to reestablish this relationship. If the relationship is being established to assuage guilt, if it's mostly for what YOU need, then be very careful. Remember, the door is closed. Your brother is used to the closed door. Opening that door, without every intention of keeping it open, is cruel. Try to move your motivation (believe it or not that is possible) over to what you will both gain. You will both gain a relationship, you will both experience brotherhood, you will both support each other. Wanting a RELATIONSHIP is different from wanting FORGIVENESS. Don't confuse the two.
2) Expect a Person: This may sound odd, so let me explain. Your brother is now a stranger to you, it might be tempting to imagine him through the lens of stereotype: 'They are just so loving.' Go in knowing that your brother is a full bodied, flesh and blood person, with likes and dislikes, with passions, with interests, with a way of doing things that is uniquely his own. This is actually good news. I couldn't imagine how boring it would be to be with someone perpetually nice. How horrible! So be prepared to spend time getting to know him - explore those interests you find in common. It may take time, but then, all relationships take time. Sharing a bloodline doesn't hold a candle to simply sharing time.
3) Staff are Staff: If your brother has support staff - don't confuse a relationship with them with a relationship with your brother. Unfortunately we 'helping people' can tend to take over in situations like this. You will need to politely, but firmly, push us aside. It's your brother that matters here. Calling and chatting with a staff about how he's doing IS NOT THE SAME as calling him. He's your family ensure they know that. If he takes some time in answering questions or explaining himself, give him that time. It may be easier to ask the staff, but really - isn't time what you want to spend. If you are going to ask them something - ask him if that's OK first. Make sure he knows you respect him enough to let him make those decisions.
4) Staff are People: Because of that be careful. People can be judgemental. Some may wonder about your motives. Some may feel that you are a 'Johnny Come Lately'. Some may actually fear you because they fear losing power. So if you feel a resentment from the staff - well, don't let that bother you - you've made a decision to reconnect with your brother.
5) Connect The Way People Connect: Time together doing stuff that's fun for both is the simplest way to establish a relationship. Discovering each other, discovering what makes each other laugh ... doing with and being with is the easiest way for people to become family. Giving stuff is easier - and we are all tempted towards 'easy' ... but giving time is what's needed here.
Now the tough stuff:
6) Your Brother Has Rights: In all my time in working with people with disabilities I have seen many families reunite. It's wonderful. It's heartwarming. It's lovely. Many people with disabilities that I have known have fully welcomed and embraced the contact when it's reestablished. Many people with disabilities brushed away apologies and simply wanted to get on with being ... a son, a brother, a sister, an uncle, a cousin ... From my experience, the odds are in your favour. But that's not always true. Some people with disabilities after a time apart or a time away are not interested in reestablishing a relationship. Some fear hurt again. Some are wary of intentions. If this is the case, remember, you can't force relationship on someone. Go in hoping but be prepared to listen. This relationship is as much his choice as it is yours.
7) Apologize At The Right Time: If you feel that you need to apologize - do. But choose the time. On first meeting - it should be about joy and the pleasure of seeing each other after a long time. Burdening the first contact with the weight of the past may relieve things for you but may cause your brother to re-live stuff that can get in the way of the relationship. Choose the time. You will know when that time is. It can be, no matter what I just said, on reconnecting. It can be months later. You will know. Have you heard the expression, 'I need to give him an apology?' Apologies aren't giving, they are taking. The only apology worth anything, is change. It may be best to apologize in action before apologizing in words.
Go. See. Your. Brother.