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To My Son With Autism Who Doesn’t Realize He’s His Little Sister’s Hero

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Dear Son,

You probably don’t realize it, but you are someone’s hero.

You earned that title nearly five years ago when you first met your little sister. The baby who was in the NICU for three weeks you waited so patiently to meet. You were only 6 years old, and when I asked you what you thought of the tiny girl hooked up to all the wires and monitors you said, “She’s amazing!”

Jodi Shenal.3-001

Amazing was an accurate description. She had defied the odds. We were told she would likely be “incompatible with life.” Thankfully, she had other plans. She entered the world as a fighter, and that personality trait has only grown stronger over time.

Over the years, your bond with her has strengthened, and it’s easy to see the depth of your love for her. Although she is unable to speak, the twinkle in her eyes and the squeals of her laughter convey how happy she is when you are around. You read your video game books to her and also record your voice onto her favorite iPad apps, giving them a familiar and personal touch. If she is upset, you immediately go to her and try to pacify her. Knowing she can’t tell you what’s wrong, I can see the worry on your face for her.

You are so helpful. When we arrive at school each day to drop your little sister off, you instinctively get out of the car and pull open the trunk so I can remove her wheelchair. Routinely, you proceed to open her car door and ask her if she’s ready to see her friends. Then, you always unbuckle her car seat as I bring her wheelchair around to place her in it. You carry her little pink backpack with “Frozen” characters on it, no matter how much you detest anything “girly.”

Last year, when you attended the same school as her, you would stop by her classroom and remind the teacher to “take good care of her.” If you saw her being pushed down the hallway in her wheelchair, you would run up to her and give her a hug or kiss her forehead. You didn’t care if anyone saw you; it didn’t bother you to show affection to her in front of your friends.

You recently began writing a story about her and her classmates that you want to share with her class. In your story, you refer to them all as superheroes and describe how they have the power to “change bad guys into nice guys.” You tell me with an empathetic heart how these children work hard to overcome challenges and how that also makes them superheroes. You can’t possibly know how proud you make me feel.

You told me once you would like to care for her when I become too old to do so. At 11 years old, you told me she would live with you someday and have her own room in your family’s home. In that moment, I knew with certainty you were wise beyond your years. Your autism spectrum disorder has given you a great, impressive intellect, and you have a kind heart of equal greatness to match. I worry about you, too, just as much as I worry about her. I want life to be wonderful for you, and I strive to make things easier for you. Without realizing it, you do the same for your little sister and me.

Thank you for wanting to be such an integral part of her life. Thank you for being a hero of a big brother.

You are her hero, and you are also mine.

Originally published: October 15, 2015
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