You know that feeling you get when you kid hits a home run, or makes an A on a really hard test, or is simply kind to someone without having to be reminded to be so? That’s a feeling that I have nearly every day, and yes, I know how lucky I am.
Being the big sister to a special needs little brother isn’t easy. Especially when you’re only 19 months bigger. I’ve lost count of the number of times that my girl has willingly walked out of a movie that she wanted to see, a restaurant where she wanted to eat, or left the library, a park, the pool or a play area before she was ready because her little brother was having a meltdown from sensory overload.
Suffice it to say, it happens at least on a weekly basis. Only rarely does she complain or whine. (She is only eight years old, after all.) But since about the time she was four, she just gets it. She understands.
In fact, it was when she was about four that she first asked, “When is Matthew going to talk to me?” She knew that she had been talking since before she turned one, and she was ready to just talk to her little brother. But he wasn’t. And she didn’t understand. And so we had our first conversation about autism with our little girl. She listened for a moment, and said, “So, we’ll just have to teach him how to talk.”
And she has never given up on him.
She remains his most persistent teacher. She celebrates his every utterance, syllable, attempt, word, and sentence as if it were his first one. Being on the spectrum requires a lot of a family. A willingness to suffer fools with a smile, knowing that someday that ancient smokestack of a woman outside Publix will realize that her “helpful” suggestion of greater discipline for a boy having a meltdown may have been one of the most hate-filled and evil statements she has ever made.
A willingness to just walk away from the hatred that some feel towards those who are different.
A willingness to walk out of the movie because the music stopped playing at just the wrong time.
A willingness to listen and celebrate what others assume are a given because we know that nothing is actually a given in this life.
Being on the spectrum requires love. Unconditional, undying love, as the love of a sister for her little brother. That’s what my girl’s film captures: her open, willing embrace of diversity, of finding a way to play, of finding hope to continue listening, watching, and celebrating each incremental gain.
And constantly fighting to find another.
This is who my daughter is; not because of anything that I have done, she simply came to us this way. And we cannot believe how lucky we are. Emma’s PTA Reflections video on Diversity has won First Place in her age division (Primary) for Film Production at the State level. As such, her video has been submitted at the national level competition as well. You know that feeling that you get when your kid is kind without being reminded to be so?
Yeah, I know that feeling too. I have it everyday from both my kids.
Dad, hubby and irritator of students and school boards alike, Russell Winn is committed to ensuring that the Huntsville City Schools provide access to the educational support system for every student. When he's not enforcing grammar rules or arguing the ethical minutia of Kant's deontology, he spends his time loving his kids, reading anything by Stephen King or Christopher Moore, and attempting to speak truth to power on behalf of special needs kids. You may follow his rants at www.geekpalaver.com or on twitter at @russwinn.