What do you say about the miracle of The Typical? What do you say about someone who is born into this world extraordinary, simply by being ordinary?
We waited a long time after CJ was born before we even dared to consider having another child. Both Chris and I loved CJ completely, but at the same time, we were scared to death. For a whole handful of reasons, we finally decided to go forward, hoping for something that anyone who hasn’t borne a child with a disability would simply take for granted. My soul went on tiptoe for nine months.
And then came Elizabeth.
Elizabeth with her clouds of hair that shift from chocolate to caramel in the sun. Elizabeth with her pixie smile and her all-girl attitude. Elizabeth, my completely typical, utterly unique daughter.
She excelled on every level from birth. She walked before she was 9 months old. She didn’t bother to toddle…she just skipped right over that part and stood and walked. She took her first steps and then she ran! She could speak in full sentences in her tiny, tiny voice before she was a year old. One day, when she was about a year old, she was walking around when I heard her count to ten to herself. I almost fell on the floor. I had spent years with tutors, therapists and manipulatives trying to teach CJ to count to 10. He was now 8 and still couldn’t do it. That had been our normal. And I knew then and there I was in trouble. Now I was dealing with both ends of the spectrum.
Elizabeth was born older than her years in so many, many ways. They call such children “old souls” and she came into this world with a strong sense of right and an inner knowing. Give her good information and she will (usually) make good choices. She is confident and direct and she continues to be (mostly) unimpressed by people with special needs. Life with CJ has led her to conclude there’s nothing special about it. CJ is special because he’s her brother, not because he has autism. We have a friend with a daughter with Down ’s syndrome. E usually goes out of her way to help protect this girl. Lately, she has been irritated with her and not always so nice to her. I finally realized that she was treating her like she treats anyone else annoying. The girl was a person and she was irritating her, period. I couldn’t say she was wrong.
Elizabeth is around special needs kids on a regular basis and doesn’t seem to care much. I always say that nothing intimidates her. She lives with CJ. She is not scared of boys or kids bigger than her. She will take on the big boys at school in foot races (and often wins). She takes on the bullies too.
She is a normal 10 year old girl. This means she drives me nuts. She rolls her eyes. She fights with her brother. She doesn’t do her chores when she’s supposed to. Sometimes she’s messy and thoughtless, like any kid. But she is also wonderfully understanding and kind. She will stop whatever she is doing to help me with a problem with CJ.
Once I was in the middle of telling her how much she had irritated me that week by not doing what she was supposed to…and then I realized that she had dropped what she was doing to help with CJ more than one time in the last day. I took a deep breath and then called her back over. I told her that I really appreciated how she helped me, and that it really made a difference, when I was in the middle of something, that I didn’t have to stop to take care of what he needed. She looked at me and said, “I don’t mind. I want to learn as much as I can about helping people with Autism so that one day if I have a child with Autism, I will know how to help them.”
Not “Autism is my worst nightmare”. Not “having a child with any special need of any kind would ruin my life”. Not even “CJ has ruined my life”.
I never would have guessed.
For the parent of a child with autism, there is no typical. There is only extraordinary.