Little Miss Grace is six years old. She always feels under dressed as if gowns were appropriate daily attire and she is happiest when sitting at the table quietly designing couture for her dolls. Grace hit milestones well before the baby books suggested she would. Grace has always been an easy child; a polite child; a clever child that could fool parents into believing they had mastered that thing called ‘parenting.’ Autism was not even a part of our vocabulary.
Enter Kate, Grace’s four year old sister. Kate would prefer to skip clothes altogether. She rarely slows down long enough to coordinate any type of outfit on her, anyway. She is happiest playing with her Ninja Turtles and wrestling with anyone that will take her on. She missed milestones as surely as Grace surpassed them and for a short while she has these parents fooled into believing they had failed miserably at that thing called ‘parenting.’
These two very different girls are the best of friends and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Kate has autism and her big sister Grace is the best possible therapy we could ever hope for. Let me explain.
Autism is a social communicative disorder affecting the brain. Kate’s deficits with language and social interaction make it extremely difficult for her to communicate effectively and make friends. Kate stands out among her peers and receives therapy every single day to help her in these areas. Those therapies have been wonderful but none have come even close to helping Kate navigate a world she struggles to understand better than spending time with her big sister.
My husband and I have always said that Grace is the most important person in Kate’s life because she is the one that will be there for the long haul. As we watch Kate interact with her peers and we see the strange looks she receives for her odd behaviors (symptoms of her autism, which do not bother her in the least, by the way) we take comfort in the fact that her sister never looks at her this way. Her big sister, who has been known to wear her tiara to bed, will, in all her fashion forward glory, get down in the dirt and play Ninja Turtles with her baby sister without complaint. She will translate for Kate as if she is an interpreter for her little sister who is trying to negotiate a world so very foreign to her.
I don’t wish to paint a false or curated portrait of the relationship between our two girls because just as easily as they can play happily in the dirt they can fight like many siblings do. I merely wish to acknowledge a little six year old princess’ commitment to her little sister as one of the most precious and crucial parts of that little one’s therapy. While we realize, as parents, that a great responsibility may someday fall on the shoulders of our aptly named girl, we feel hopeful and proud as we watch her eagerly take the lead role in her sister’s therapy.