First, please read this. Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if the link fails to work. In that spirit, I’ll actually just cut and paste it here. This content belongs to its author, Elizabeth Choi, and the New York Times, not me. I reproduce it here…for reasons that I hope will become obvious.

Grace will get the pearls passed down from my grandmother. Her twin brother, Nick, will get the woodworking tools my husband, Dan, inherited from his grandfather. They will also inherit their brother Jeffrey.

Jeffrey was 3 when his idiosyncrasies — his fascination with spinning objects, his sensitivity to the hum of fluorescent lighting — became symptoms leading to a diagnosis. I was pregnant with the twins and folded my hands protectively over my domed belly as the pediatrician leaned forward, eyes intent on mine, and said: “I want you to understand, there is no cure for autism. Jeffrey will need care for the rest of his life.”

Firstborns are often frustrated by the disruptions caused by a new sibling, but to an autistic child who craves structure and is sensitive to light and noise, the addition of two squalling infants is a catastrophe. Lunch was sometimes delayed for breast-feeding, this door sometimes had to be closed because the babies were finally napping, and mommy and daddy were often too exhausted to read the same three books at bedtime.

Jeffrey’s frustration developed into tics, like fluttering his fingers in front of his eyes. He became increasingly hyperactive and angry, sometimes even dangerous: I once caught him pressing his hands against Grace’s face in an attempt to muffle the shrill sound of her crying. When the twins started crawling, Jeffrey kicked them if they got too close to his toys arranged on the floor in a pattern known only to him.

At night, Dan and I lay in bed, two 20-somethings debating ethics in whispers while our children slept down the hall. Where does compassion for Jeffrey’s disabilities end and Nick and Grace’s rights to a safe and normal childhood begin?

We begged our pediatrician to do something to help Jeffrey cope. He prescribed new medications, but also gently suggested that if Jeffrey was a serious danger to the twins, we needed to consider institutionalizing him. Dan and I immediately dismissed the suggestion. Yet on days when managing an autistic child and toddler twins drove me into the dark of my bedroom closet to weep and scream, the thought of sending Jeffrey away was shamefully enticing. Friends, family, even strangers in the grocery line told me that Jeffrey was a “blessing,” a God-sent opportunity to learn patience and compassion, and I would murmur and nod in agreement.

Eventually, Nick and Grace grew old enough to protect themselves, but they were still too young to understand Jeffrey’s disabilities. At 8, Jeffrey still liked the sensation of chewing on hard objects and gnawed the critical piece in Nick’s latest Lego structure and the arm of Grace’s favorite doll. Jeffrey had difficulty with language and often used quotes from movies to express himself, and after watching “Toy Story,” he started referring to Nick as a “sad, strange little man.” We found it funny, but Nick did not.

The twins saw Jeffrey as a Godzilla-like monster rampaging through their young lives and I struggled to point out Jeffrey’s strengths. Unlike many children with autism, Jeffrey was affectionate and gave us hugs with his trademark intensity, squeezing the air out of us while administering sloppy kisses.

And there were moments when he seemed like any other kid. Once when he ran into the kitchen asking for a snack, I tried to coax out his manners by saying, “What do you say? It starts with a P, ends with E?” “Hmm …” Jeffrey said, hand on his chin, sly smile on his face, “Plate?”

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