To My Daughter, Who Didn't Choose to Have a Brother With Autism

“This is Max, my baby brother. Don’t hurt him.”

That’s how Stevie would aggressively introduce her little brother to people when she was 3 and he was 1. It made me laugh, but I knew then that she’d always have his back. I just didn’t realize the extent to which it would go. It wasn’t until more than a year later that I learned Max had autism.

Being a single mom isn’t the easiest gig, especially when one of your little ones tends to wander — or more often bolt, as kids with autism do — because he doesn’t understand the dangers of crowded places, parking lots and busy streets.

Stevie has grown to become my second pair of eyes, always watching over Max. I never asked her to and she doesn’t think twice about it. It’s second nature. It’s just the way it is in our family. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Idie Atencio Photography

She tells him to come back when he skips down the driveway before he gets too close to the street. She grabs him when he jumps out of the car in a parking lot before I’ve even had the chance to get my seatbelt off.  She runs after him in Target when he races down one of the isles for fun. She follows him in the grocery store when he wanders off to the freezer section to watch the auto-sensor lights go on and off.

Stevie taught Max how to buckle his own seatbelt. She talks to him in a sweet, calming voice when he’s getting aggravated in the car. She translates his words when people can’t understand him. She tells him he’s going to be OK when he’s getting anxious during a haircut, a doctor’s visit or any place where he feels uncomfortable.

At just 10 years old, she’s the ultimate big sister. And until now, I’ve never properly thanked her. I am so grateful to her for just being herself: kind, helpful, protective and funny as all get out. I don’t know what I’d do without her as she keeps me laughing every day with her quick wit and comedic lines that you’d think an adult wrote.

She didn’t choose this position of big sister to a little brother with autism. It’s not always easy. He breaks her stuff, yells a lot and needs a ton of undivided attention. Sure, she gets mad –maybe sometimes a little jealous — but she takes it all in stride. I’m so thankful to her for always having her brother’s back and for being the eyes in the back of my head. Thank you, my Stevie, for being the best big sister. 

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