My girl is amazing.
There was not one single person in that classroom this afternoon (which included her classmates, teacher, the principal, and another adult I didn’t recognize) that could not see how simply amazing my daughter is.
She was a new penny, all shiny and glittery, casting her brilliance upon the audience.
I sat in awe of my baby.
In fact, I was so taken aback by her word choice and comfort, that I entirely forgot to snap a picture or film a snippet until the very end when the presentation was over. No, I just sat there front and center as she clicked away and shared her brother with her classmates.
And they listened. 20 attentive bodies filled the room. It was a teacher’s dream, the kind of attention these 10 year olds gave Sole, which I’m sure made it that much easier for her to share something so personal from her life.
She told them about how autism is a spectrum disorder. She identified the varying levels of functionality and distinguished Asperger’s from high functioning autism with delicate tact. She shared the many facets of autism’s impact on her brother from sensory issues to fixations to developmental delays to memory and intelligence.
She dignified her brother as she talked about his “challenges and gifts,” explaining that…let me get this right…
My brother’s intelligence [pause], well, let’s just say that it would blow you away. He’s just absolutely amazing.
She defined and described autism, while simultaneously humanizing her brother.
And that group of 10-year-olds, they listened.
And when all was said and done at the end of her presentation, I knew that they had listened because they asked the most thoughtful questions.
What’s it like having a brother with autism?
What happens if you change his routines?
How does he react to the different therapists that work with him?
What will happen as he gets older if his routines change?
Are there more high or lower functioning people with autism?
Sole fielded them with grace and poise and genuine knowledge, only deferring to me a couple of times to help her answer.
It was beautiful.
But, you know what? Though her presentation was fantastic, and I could NOT be prouder, the most meaningful part of the day came when my own awareness was heightened.
You see, this afternoon Jonas was visited by fabulous Ms. R who does the home component of his preschool program once a week, and with her came the director of the intensive program, as she is accustomed to doing every 6-8 weeks (I know, we are so very lucky! I’m well aware of it!).
The director, Mrs. M, asked Sole to tell her more about the presentation that she had done for her class. Sole described what she did and the content that she included in her slides. Naturally Mrs. M was congratulatory and proud. She shared her thoughts with Sole, telling her that she thinks that the work Sole did is so very important. She shared that she loves how Sole described autism as a difference, not a disability or illness. She told Sole that she will never know the true impact of her words, that she may very well have planted a seed and changed the life of one of her classmates.
They got to talking more and more about the presentation and school. Mrs. M shared that she is eager to start a support group at school for 4th-6th graders who have siblings with autism. Mrs. M said that Sole may be surprised to learn who else at school had a brother or sister with autism. Obviously Mrs. M knows all of the kids, but she was professional and protected their confidentiality.
Then, Sole shared the name of a girl in her class (let’s call her Eve) whose sister is impacted by autism.
I didn’t know this.
Sole explained that the sibling with autism is actually Eve’s twin.
I didn’t know. My heart immediately went out to the sister pair and their family.
Then Mrs. M said something that struck me hard. I didn’t react at the time, but upon thinking about these two little girls later, after I dropped Sole off at soccer practice and was alone in the confines of my car, I cried.
“I bet that after your presentation that Eve didn’t feel so alone anymore.”
She didn’t feel so alone anymore.
Tears trickle down my face as I type these words. The image of twin girls arm in arm for a family photo enters my mind. Identical except for their expressions. One twin smiles, looking right at the camera, the other glances off to the left, serious. I don’t know where this image comes from, but it is haunting to me.
Throughout the presentation Eve sat quietly and attentively. During the Q and A portion of the presentation, Eve remained silent. Of course Eve had no questions. Eve and Sole walk in the same shoes.
After practice, I asked Sole if Eve had said anything to her about the presentation. I hoped that we hadn’t touched on something that would make this shy girl feel worse. I couldn’t help thinking that maybe Eve wasn’t ready to hear about autism at school. Perhaps Eve had reached the point of “enough autism already.” I worried.
Sole’s response, “She said that I did a good job.”
I had fully expected that Sole’s presentation would be raising awareness for autism for others. I hadn’t imagined that it would raise even more awareness in me.
And I hope that Mrs. M is right.
I hope that now Eve feels less alone, because she’s not. I hope she recognizes it and finds solace in knowing that Sole is there beside her. I hope that she realizes that she is not alone. None of us are.