Oftentimes, I worry that spending an inordinate amount of time with my 6-year-old son on the autism spectrum will negatively impact my 5-year-old neurotypical daughter.
My daughter — a happy, smart, empathic and confident little girl — was only too happy to have me ask her questions about her role in the family, and how it feels to have a special brother.
Mom: What is autism?
Eliza: I think it’s something some kids have, but when you’re grown up, it goes away.
What does autism mean to you?
It means that there are people who are a little different from people who are “normal.”
Why do you think Ethan sometimes behaves the way he does?
Because he has autism.
What do you think about your brother?
I think he’s the way God made him, and he shouldn’t change.
What do you think goes on in his brain?
Sometimes his brain gets confused, and he says the wrong words or says things in a funny way.
Does it upset you when Ethan misbehaves?
Sometimes it upsets me, because when my brother is sad, I get sad.
Do you feel special having a special brother?
Yes, because he’s special to me.
Do you know how special you are?
As special as Ethan.
Would you want Ethan to be more like you?
Yes, because brothers and sisters should be like each other.
How are you and Ethan the same?
Well, we’re both smart. We’re smart in different ways. He’s good at some stuff and I’m good at some stuff.
Do you think Ethan gets more attention because he has autism?
Do you have fun with your brother?
I like spending time with my brother. He’s fun. He’s my best friend. I would like to marry him, but my teacher said that you couldn’t marry your family.
What would you say to your friends who want to know why Ethan sometimes acts differently?
He’s different from us. My brother has autism.
How would you react if someone made fun of your brother?
I would say, “That’s not nice! Go away!” But one time, my friend Jack said that he wished he had autism so he could play piano like Ethan, and that made me feel super good.
What do you think about Ethan’s piano playing?
I think it’s really good. He can play anything!
You have a lot of special talents, too! What are they?
I’m good at swimming, gymnastics, dancing and dress up.
In what ways do you and your brother help each other?
I try to help him swim, and help him with his speech like the “th” sound. I also make him look at me when he talks. And, when I want to dance, Ethan plays piano for me.
Is there anything you can do that Ethan can’t?
He can do a lot of stuff, but he doesn’t do gymnastics or dance as good as me.
Is there anything Ethan can do that you can’t?
He can do anything with computers, and he’s a great reader.
Do you think you and your brother will be close when you’re older?
Yes, because I love him and want to be with him all the time.
What will you and Ethan will do when you’re grownups?
We will start having our own families. We can go out for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You and Daddy can babysit.
My last question, which is a trick question... Why are you so beautiful?
Because I look like my mommy. (Note: Brainwash early and brainwash often.)
In a cruel twist of fate, my daughter will most likely inherit my poor eyesight. Yet, there is no doubt she will retain her 20/20 vision — both literally and figuratively — for the rest of her life. Based on her answers to my questions, that much is crystal clear.
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