It can’t be easy being the sibling of a child with autism. But this little 6-year-old girl not only copes with the situation, she’s also a tremendous source of support. She’s the light of her brother’s life and for that, he’s so very thankful.
My children are 16 months apart. With Ethan, our firstborn, we tried — and had fun trying, darn it — for five months before we hit the jackpot. (You might want to steer clear of room 901 at the CuisinArt Resort in Anguilla.)
When Ethan was 6 months old, our daughter Eliza was conceived, literally on my 40th birthday. (Tacky and trite, yet entirely true.) Still nursing Ethan and with just one newly returned monthly cycle under my belt (figuratively, not literally), I was convinced — and, more importantly, convinced my husband — that there was no way “we” could get pregnant so quickly. Famous last words.
The perfect present
My pregnancy was confirmed on Mother’s Day of all times. Who knew a pregnancy test would be the perfect present? At that time of my second pregnancy, Ethan’s development was right on target, and yet, I cried, feeling guilty, that somehow a new baby would short-change the unspoken “Mommy and Ethan alone-time” contract I had with my son.
The birthday girl
Eliza turned 6 on January 23 (1-2-3). Ethan, as always, was by her side and sang and played “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in her honor. While Ethan has full speech — and a plethora of four-letter words thanks to Eminem and Prince — he has one more gift he wants to give his sister, which as his mother, I have taken the liberty to elucidate, as he’s too busy composing his next big symphony. (As it happens, he’s entitled it “Penis Poop.” Sigh.)
A letter from Ethan
For my darling sister, on the occasion of her 6th birthday,
You saved me. Literally, you saved me. The day Mommy and Daddy brought you home from the hospital is the day I completely shut down. In essence, your arrival forced them to realize my development wasn’t where it should be, and they called Early Intervention services. Without you, who knows if they would have stopped listening to everyone who said I was “just being a boy, and boys develop at a slower pace.” (More famous last words.)
You might not know it, but from day one, you have been my advocate, my protector, my teacher, my rescuer, my hero. My baby sister by birth order… a giant presence in my world.
We have two different sets of strengths: I am more musical, you are more athletic. I like computers, you like books. I like pirates and soldiers, you like princesses and Barbie. We don’t have a conventional relationship. Yet together, we are one very powerful force. We very much complete each other. Yin and yang. We are forever a team. We are The E-Team.
Sometimes I know you resent the attention that my music and autism engender, and I want you to know that I understand. I hear you tell Mommy and Daddy that you want to be on television… that you want to be interviewed for the newspaper… that you want to be on YouTube. Eliza, you don’t need to be on TV for everyone to see how talented, special and unique you are. You are already a star. You are my star. You are Mommy and Daddy’s star, too.
You are beautiful, Eliza, and not just because you have blonde curly Shirley Temple hair and blue eyes that make people stop in their tracks. That’s just your outside. Your true beauty is what’s inside, for it’s your heart and mind that make everyone you meet fall in love with you.
You are kind, thoughtful and wise well beyond your years. You are one of those rare people lit from within. You are the first to help a friend who is hurt; with a friendly smile and a kind word, you soothe their physical or emotional pain. You are quick to forgive a slight. Rather than receive material birthday gifts from your friends, you asked that they bring in one grocery bag of non-perishable food items so that you might donate them to the local pantry to help the less fortunate. (Come to think of it, are you sure we share the same DNA?)
When your friends ask why I am “different,” you try to educate them and sweetly say, “My brother has autism and sometimes his brain gets confused.” It is you, Eliza, more than any other person in this world, who has helped make me more typical. Who has helped make me more present in this world. Who has made me want to engage with others. Who has given me a sense of self, a sense of place and a sense of humor. You make the real world look so fun and inviting, that you help lead me out of my mind’s darkness and into the light. I see that your world is a wonderful place, simply because you are in it, and that’s where I want to be, too.
Your patience knows no bounds. When I get angry, you take your hands and wrap them around my face and say, “It’s OK Ethan, you’ll be OK.” When I do something good, you wrap your hands around my face and say, “Great job, Ethan! I am so proud of you!” When I mispronounce a word or say something inappropriate, you wrap your hands around my face and say, “No, Ethan. Say it like this.” And, I love it all, because I know you want the best for me and your support comes from the heart. Hopefully you know how proud you make me, as evidenced by my front-row claps and cheers at your ballet and gymnastics recitals. When you dance to my piano music, you make my heart sing!
Your teachers are amazed at your depth of empathy and they tell Mommy and Daddy all the time. One day, your teacher asked your class, “What are you thankful for?” Many kids mentioned a television show or pet. You answered, “My brother.” On more than one occasion, you have left certain extra-curricular classes in tears, because while you got a sticker, the teacher didn’t have an extra sticker that you could give to me at home.
Sometimes, I do feel guilty that I’m not the average, run-of-the-mill “typical” brother. But, it comforts me to know that you will always have friends like Lulu and Raya and CiCi and Marin, sisters-in-spirit, with whom you share “brothers with differences.” Rest assured that all us “brothers with differences” love our sisters just as much as you love us. We just have different ways of expressing our love.
While I know a birthday is traditionally a time to receive gifts, you should know that Mommy and Daddy also gave me a gift. That gift arrived six years ago — and every day since — and that gift is you. Having you as my sister is truly the greatest gift — and the greatest therapy — of all. I love you, Eliza!
Your loving brother,
P.S. My room is still off limits to girls (except Mommy), so keep out.