When We Realized Why My Sister Understands My Son With Autism So Well


I am the oldest of three sisters. One sister is two years younger than I am, and one is five years younger. I was born a social rule follower, always working towards being an appreciated member of the team. Middle Sis was… different. As a baby, she always wanted to be held by our mom, and would cry and fret if she was set down. Others couldn’t hold her, it had to be Mom. No one could kiss her except Mom.

As she grew older, she was still… different. She would often be in her own world, not hearing her name when called, and you would have to get in her line of sight to gain her attention. She was not motivated to be part of the family team, to follow the rules like I did. She just did her own thing. It was very confusing for me as a child.

I once drew in black pen on our concrete patio. My consequence was to clean it up, and after scrubbing it off I never drew on anything I wasn’t supposed to ever again. Middle Sis preferred crayon as her artistic media, and walls as her canvas. All the forced scrubbing in the world did not deter her.

When she crayoned on the neighbor’s garage (orange circles on white stucco) the whole family helped clean it. I was 5 and furious. What was wrong with her? Why didn’t she learn?

It wasn’t that she wasn’t smart. When I entered elementary school and started learning to read, I came home and taught her. She was reading along with me at 3. She had a retentive memory especially for comedy, and could be counted on to quote the perfect line at the perfect time for maximum hilarity.

As we grew up, I watched her mature, how she struggled in some ways and triumphed in others. I grew to appreciate the full complexity of her and all her facets, the ones I understood and the ones I didn’t. She became one of my best friends.

She has been extremely supportive on our journey with my son, the Navigator, offering me a shoulder when needed, timely words of wisdom, and important new perspectives. She has also been an unexpected support to the Navigator, more than just the loving aunt.

As we learned more about the Navigator’s autism diagnosis and what it meant for the Navigator, she began to identify similar characteristics in herself and I began to see similar characteristics in him that I had seen in my childhood. After reading blog articles, she would tell me that she recognized certain behaviors or feelings that I described in the Navigator.

And he adores her. She knows exactly what to say to him at exactly the right time. She insists that he call her “Aunt Genius” and he thinks it is the funniest thing ever. It has become a wonderful thing when he does something and he doesn’t quite understand why he did it. “Don’t worry about it,” I will say. “Aunt Genius used to do that when she was a kid, too.” He smiles and is obviously reassured. If someone as cool as Aunt Genius does it, it can’t be that bad.

I believe that one of the reasons we are able to meet the Navigator’s needs as well as we do is because I already had experience unconditionally loving a person who was… different. What confused me as a child I now celebrate, which makes it that much easier to celebrate the same in the Navigator.

I am doubly blessed.

This post originally appeared on Autism-Mom.

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