I have a son named Jack, and a daughter named Rose.
Although Jack and Rose are three years apart, they have a close relationship.
They sit at the kitchen counter in the morning and munch on their cereal. She asks about his school, and he tells her bits and pieces. Every few minutes she places her fingers on his hand to remind him to use his spoon instead of fishing around in his bowl of milk for the Cheerios.
None of this is particularly unusual. Plenty of families have kids who eat breakfast together, and talk about school.
Yet at the same time, it is unusual, because Jack has autism. He is older than her in birth order but younger than her emotionally. He doesn’t like to answer questions. He doesn’t like to make conversation. He especially does not like to use his spoon. But for his sister, he will.
She gets him. I don’t know how else to explain it. She has mastered the art of waiting for him–of listening through the long pauses to hear what he has to say. She doesn’t seem to mind the waiting.
And in the eye of the hurricane—when the sour cream isn’t right or the lights are too bright or the line for Redbox is too long, it is often she who calms him.
She asked to write about him this week. I asked her some questions and she typed her answers, and when she finished, she stood over my shoulder and we edited it together.
In her words, I understood her tender, tenuous balance—on one hand, an uncertain fifth grader who is trying to figure out who she is and where she belongs. On the other hand, a sister who holds a magic sister-key to her brother’s complicated mind. And all the while, she believes the world is good.
It reminded me of something I once read.
“Validate my existence with your words, and I will speak to you all the day long.”
― Richelle E. Goodrich
My name is Rose. I am ten years old. I have four brothers. I am surrounded by all boys because even my dog, Wolfie, is a boy.
I am in fifth grade. I go to a nice school and I have wonderful teachers. But I don’t always fit right in like I should. Other girls make me feel nervous. People can be mean and I try not to care what they say.
I like the color blue and dark green. I’m not the best with dresses. If I had to pick it would be pants and a t-shirt. I also have short hair and I am pretty tall for my age. I want to be a primatologist when I grow up. A primatologist is someone who studies apes like Jane Goodall.
One of my favorite things to do is something our family calls Adventure Sunday. We make a plan in the morning of what to do, like a movie or to visit somewhere together. I think the best one was when we went tubing down this big river. I flipped out of my tube and we laughed so hard.
That was a good time except my older brother Jack kept trying to jump off this rope swing but he kept getting scared to do it. There was a line behind him and at first people didn’t mind, but the longer he took they got mad, and they shouted some things at him that didn’t sound nice. I felt sad and mad at the same time.
Jack has autism. He was born with it, and he’s the only one in our family who has it. I think that makes him feel lonely.
He likes cars, music, and how funny Mickey Mouse can be.
I baked him a whole cake when he had to go to summer school. He cried on my shoulder before the bus came in the morning, and I thought about him all day I decided a cake would make him feel better. It was vanilla with blue frosting and he ate a big piece of it when he got home.
I worry that people might think he’s dumb, but he isn’t.
I worry he’ll feel alone for a lot of his life because he doesn’t really have any friends. People don’t know him like I do. I try to listen to him, and help him if he has a problem.
Like one time in a restaurant, his food didn’t come out right and he got very, very mad. I gave him some of my food while he waited. It was easy to make him happy and calm. We’d ordered the same thing anyway, chicken fingers with French fries.
I don’t want to say I study him, but in a way I watch him closely to see his moods and the way they change. I watch him carefully to see the things he likes. I try to put on a kind smile every time he’s in the room, even if I’m sad. This way he’ll stay happy too.
I don’t like when people say he has special-needs. I know he has needs, but we all have needs.
People say I have a nice way with Jack, but I think if you knew him you would do the same. When things get tough you have to stick with him.