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Superheroes and Sidekicks: Teaching and Learning From My Daughter With Autism


Over the years, I’ve been exposed to a wide variety of superheroes. My oldest son loved “Justice League”– Flash was his favorite. He had the costume and darted around the house like lightning. The “Justice League” was a team, each doing his or her part to solve the problem — to save the world.

My youngest now loves “Star Wars.” He carries a light saber on his belt loop. He watches light saber videos on YouTube. He says he’s from “the dark side” (watch out). In “Star Wars,” the apprentice learns alongside the master teacher until he is ready to go out on his own.

Sometimes people call moms “superheroes.” And quite frankly, we are. We are master teachers — or at least trying to be. We have apprentices at our side—little “sidekicks.”

I have three “sidekicks” or apprentices. Two of them are becoming more independent every day. They’re soaring and flying in new ways all the time. I love watching them venture out, but I’m there to catch them if they fall, too.

My daughter is 12, but she’s still my sidekick in many ways. Having autism means she gets to be an apprentice a little longer. And that’s OK.

When we go places in public and there are too many people, and she feels scared, I come to her rescue. I help her, I teach her. She stays by my side like a loyal sidekick; she trusts me.

At school she has a 1:1 aide. Her aide is like her master teacher — my daughter is learning the ropes right along side her. Sometimes her aide lets her fly solo, but she’s always there to catch her fall. That’s what superheroes do.

At church youth events, she is my sidekick… for now. She’s venturing into new territory and needs someone to help her learn. I’m happy to be her master teacher. But I know with time, she will rise to a new level.

She’s had the help of superheroes, master teachers, all along the way. Therapists, aides, doctors, friends, siblings, parents. Her own little “Justice League” working alongside her to save the world, to make her world safer.

Superheroes and sidekicks. The master and the apprentice. They work together.

You want to know something, though? Sometimes I don’t feel like the superhero — I think my daughter is. She’s facing the world in a way I can’t possibly understand, and that makes her braver than me. She’s like my master teacher, and she’s my superhero. She’s taught me more than I could possibly teacher her. But I’ll fill in the role of “superhero” until she realizes she’s had superhero powers all along. One day she’s going to fly away and take the lead, and I’ll be the one left behind.

No matter what, we’ll always be a team, and I’ll be there to catch her when she falls.

Follow this journey on The Special Reds.