My sister Erin is 2 years younger than I am. She is smart, funny, and outgoing. She is the only biological Aunt to my children, and Aunt Erin has Autism. Erin is my only sibling. Growing up I have never known anything different. She is my sister and I have always taken on the role of being a caregiver to her. Growing up with a sister who has special needs has always had it’s challenges. When I caught someone pushing or bullying her it was my time to fight back. I have always felt the need to protect her because the world is cruel and unforgiving. When we were in daycare a kid pushed her off her tricycle and my mom took me to pick her up. I put on a bulldog sweatshirt and found that kid on the playground and launched her off of her bike. This is how we have always been.
Erin has behavioral issues which have seemed to surface more since I have had kids. She has always been the center of attention in our family and now it feels like she is a little lost and lashes out because she doesn’t know any better. Welcome to the world of Autism. She particularly doesn’t like babies.. mine are most definitely included in that. She will tell a stranger that their baby is ugly (which I find hilarious). She questions each of my kids actions because unfortunately in her mind they are a threat and are not a welcome presence. Our entire family works on it regularly and we have high hopes that once her nieces get a bit bigger she will be able to enjoy them instead of feeling intimidated or scared.
My parents cannot leave the house without having a babysitter. My sister is now 28. Her nieces will never be able to be left alone with her or go out on the town with their Aunt Erin. But I thank god every day that my girls will grow up with compassion and love in their hearts. They absolutely love her! Sadie does not leave her alone ever. I am beyond thrilled that they have get to have this early exposure to someone who is not society’s norm. I know that they will be leaders, and I will teach them to be brave and stand up to the bullies on the playground. I know that they will teach lessons to other children and adults who don’t have first hand experience with people who have special needs. Having an aunt with Autism is a blessing to my babes.
This is not going to be an easy fix, because there is no fix. But there is always progress to be made. Our life has never been normal. I don’t know what it’s like to tell my sister a secret. I have never had the pleasure of sneaking out with her in the middle of the night or lying to our parents about where we were. We have never called each other crying about a stupid boyfriend or a fight with a friend. But she has taught me how to be a good human being. I have and always will be compassionate towards people who have special needs. If you have not walked a day in the life you have no idea how much work and energy goes into having a child with special needs. It impacts the ENTIRE family, and not just a sibling or parent. You are constantly met with ignorance which you need to either brush off or use as an opportunity to teach. I would like to take this moment to teach.
People who have special needs are not retarded or “retards”. If you use that word you should reevaluate your vocabulary and just take it out. They are not slow. Chances are they are wayyyyy smarter than you will give them credit for, they just have a harder time verbalizing what they are thinking about. If someone is not moving fast enough to your liking, be patient and give them a second to process your request. All of our brains are wired differently. If you want to meet someone who loves unconditionally, surround yourself with people who have special needs. Ask how you can help. Ask how they are feeling. And don’t dismiss them because they are not answering a question or have a behavior that is different from what you are used to seeing. Don’t assume someone has Autism. Don’t assume people who do have Autism will act or behave a certain way. Our family has always been centered around living with someone who has Autism. As much as I would love to change it I wouldn’t. Compassion comes naturally to some and is learned by others. If you have questions, ask! Do not be that guy. Don’t assume. Don’t judge. Open your heart and mind, you will be amazed at what you are met with.