Five years ago, the twins came into our world. We nervously welcomed a little boy, Tristan, and a little girl, Sadie. They have been inseparable ever since. I began asking questions of doctors as early on as six weeks of life. As a mother, I knew Sadie was less engaged with the world than her other siblings. I was reassured, and a couple of years passed. She met milestones on time, if not early. The concerns in my mind still grew as she would complete 100-piece puzzles at the age of two, but she would do so for hours, refusing to eat, drink, or even use the restroom. She would design intricate patterns of colored baby spoons, as well as line up items and correct those not completely symmetrical, for several hours. So, shortly after the age of three, she was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Her twin brother is considered neurotypical according to medical and psychological guidelines, but to my husband and me, he is anything but neurotypical. It appears as though he is specifically wired to comprehend and compliment his twin. He discerns what she means while the rest of us struggle to decipher. He grasps what she fears while the rest of us are baffled. He grasps Sadie, deciphers Sadie, and intercedes on behalf all of Sadie through all of her struggles and strengths. Our little girl has some difficulty reciprocating these actions, but she doesn’t seem to have difficulty appreciating them – even if she never says it in quite that way.
One uncharacteristically warm winter day, I was trying to take some time for myself to garden. We have four children now, so personal time is a rarity that must be seized and savored. With no warning, the serenity of the day came to a screeching halt.
“Ants are on the step! I can’t go down the steps! I can’t do it!” Sadie screamed in nearly unintelligible hysterics.
“Sadie, just go down the steps. They won’t bother you. I can’t come up there right now and I can’t make the ants disappear,” I said with great frustration, as the day’s “problems” already exhausted every ounce of patience in my body.
I looked over at Tristan and saw him studying Sadie. He quietly climbed up the steps, held out his hand, and reassuringly said, “Sadie, hold my hand and I’ll show you how to walk past the ants.” As I watched them descend the steps hand in hand over the villainous ants marching two by two, I was ashamed it was that simple. What Sadie needed was some compassion and the offering of a hand. I didn’t do that. That day, I received a healthy dose of humility. My daughter with autism is teaching me how to see the world through her eyes. Her world is beautiful, scary, enriching, and frustrating. My son, her neurotypical twin, is teaching me to see his twin through his eyes. In his eyes she is beautiful, funny, genuine, complex, and a confidante. As they tell each other every day regardless of any disagreement, brawls, or toy custody disputes, “You’re my best friend. I love you.”
In our family, my husband and I try to encourage the belief that we all have autism, not just Sadie. We are a family, and when one family member hurts, we all hurt. When one family member succeeds, we all succeed. The twins seem to have naturally accepted and practiced this belief to near perfection.
Amy Windham Muir is a wife and the mom of four kids. She has a ten-year-old daughter, five-year-old-twin son and daughter, and a nine-month old son. Her five-year-old daughter has autism spectrum disorder, and her youngest was recently diagnosed with developmental delays. Amy has her master’s degree in social work, but currently life revolves around her family and autism. She enjoys writing as a cathartic and inspirational activity and maintains a blog filled with humor and realities associated with ASD parenting.
This article was featured in Issue 51 – School: Preparing Your Child for Transition