"I feel lucky because I have an autistic sister."
While words don't seem necessary for this picture, I feel I must add some information. I fear this type of imagery might bother some folks. For starters, this assignment was done by my eldest, at school. I had no idea such a project was coming up, and didn't learn about it until it was sent home a few days ago. Just so those doubters know, I didn't suggest this to my child, there was never any discussion about it. My daughter completed this at school, and never mentioned it to me. Each child in class was given a clover to write what they feel lucky about. These were then displayed in their room.
When I first saw this, I felt mixed emotions. I was taken aback that that is what my daughter would choose to feel lucky for. Simply because when it comes down to it, she could have chosen her friends, material objects, summer vacations--anything. Also, since she has expressed some sadness about her sister--how at times she feels that her little sister doesn't love her, and is sometimes confused as to why her sister acts the way she does.
We've always had an honest and open dialogue with our eldest. We've never hidden things from her. The day we received the autism diagnosis, we sat down with her and told her. In an appropriate manner, we explained how "autism" simply gave a name to how her sister was. That it didn't change her, it wasn't a sickness, this wouldn't mean more hospital stays. We also told her that autism wasn't the reason for everything her sister does--that sometimes, her little sister is simply being a little sister (aka a pain in the butt to big sis!). We gave her a book, I've mentioned it before.
From there on in, we've always welcomed conversations with her. We don't judge her, and let her work through whatever emotions she is feeling. We are also always sure to let her know that having any brother or sister is not a cake walk. My husband and I relay stories of growing up with 4 siblings a piece, and the drama involved in that. We always give her perspective, we avoid pity parties, but we also always listen with an open ear, and give her plenty of reassurance. She's been upset at times, feeling her sister gets more of our time than her (the remedy was extra effort on our part to have "dates" with her, just her and I or she and my husband). We've made a special bin in her room, for her to go to when her sister is having a bad (loud) meltdown (she has an mp3 player with headphones, arts & crafts stuff, etc.). See, despite what some think, we are realists. We don't skip along, being oblivious to how autism affects our autistic daughter, her sister, or our family. We do our best, we are honest and open, we are not ashamed, we choose to focus on the positive, and look forward always.
Given all of that, and simply the difficulty I see in their day to day interactions, this clover was quite a surprise. Trust me, there are plenty of sweet and tender moments between them. Our oldest has been the best "teacher" for our youngest. Our little one has quite a patient, bright, and loving big sister, and we are so grateful. I never thought I'd hear my daughter say she felt lucky to have her little sister. My surprise moved to pride. Words can't express how amazed I am at my daughter's perspective on her sister, and on people in general. I also felt proud of my husband and I, obviously we are doing something right.
From their, a tinge of embarrassment grew. I, quite frankly, felt odd and wondered what her teacher, and anyone else who saw this clover would think. Like my husband said, jokingly, "maybe we sold it [autism] a little too well." A few days ago, I was volunteering at the school. I was speaking to the Life Skills teacher and she was telling me how much she loves my little one. My older daughter's teacher passed by, and we met up further down the hall. She asked if I had seen the clover. I told her I had, and how sweet I thought it was. She said she was so moved by that, and how wonderful it is to see how much my daughter loves her little sister. Hearing the teacher's take on this clover, made me realize I had no need to be embarrassed or feel awkward over it. My daughter, at her young age, is herself changing people's minds and advocating for her younger sibling. Does it really get any better for that?