“I don’t know who is the bigger gift to each other.”
I uttered those words through tear stained cheeks to a crowd of strangers after the first reading of my book. I didn’t expect to get so emotional, but I should have know I would. My children simply move me; especially in relation to each other.
My oldest child, Jenna has loved Ryan for the Ryan he is, from the beginning. She endured his countless tantrums that were often aimed at her, and still tried to play with him moments later. She pushed day in and day out to make him engage in anything with her.
I recall watching them one day not long after his diagnosis. He was maneuvering around his train table and she was trying to do what he did. I’m assuming just to be with him. He tolerated it, I think, because it was her. He gave a few squeals when she touched something she shouldn’t, but this interaction went on far longer than I had seen or expected.
I remember thinking then: he loves her. Which sounded strange; of course he loved her, it’s his sister. But Ryan didn’t have language then and I had to guess a lot of what he was thinking or feeling. It wasn’t just because he was allowing her to touch his trains, it was his body language towards her. She stood very close to him and he tolerated it. She reached out and wrapped her arms around his neck in a tight embrace and he didn’t push her away, well not immediately. Jenna picked up a forgotten train, handed it to him and he would actually look at what she had in her hand and at her. What his therapists would have given to see a natural interaction like that.
There are very few people in the world who Ryan likes in his life and Jenna is the top of the list. For many years after he could talk, his first question was “Where’s Jenna?” And to this day, he has to know where she is at all times. I can say the converse is true too. Jenna prefers his company to most people. They just have an ease about them that is uncanny. Not only is that unusual for someone with autism its unusual for any siblings (no offense to my siblings). Of course Jenna and Ryan have their moments when they annoy each other, but I have to say, it’s rare.
Is this because Jenna is an incredibly caring, patient person? Sure that has a lot to do with it. But I believe she just never saw him as different. She has the remarkable ability to look at him for Ryan, not his diagnosis. Jenna has taught Ryan unconditional love (from someone other than his parents) and the best part is he accepted it. He has always allowed her to love him.
So, who is the bigger gift to each other? I believe the equation is balanced; they are both equally blessed. Perhaps they get different things from their relationship, but the scale is even. And their lives have been irrevocably changed due to the other. (Yup, mom tears again…)
I truly believe siblings like Jenna, are going to be the leaders in acceptance. They are going to be the ones who change perspectives on autism and other disorders. They are going to be the wave of new thinking and change our world needs. Because her mind set comes from a pure heart, and how can you inspire change if you don’t start there? If she isn’t the example needed, I don’t know what is.