I worry about how this whole autism thing is going to affect Dar’s brother. Now, you might tell me, just live in the moment, don’t worry about the future, na-na-na-na-na-na-live-for-today. Well, I can’t entirely do that. You see, I’m a bit of a planner. So I think about things. I think about explaining to Dar’s brother that someday Mom and Dad will be gone and we’ll need him to step up. Of course, it may not be ideal to spring on him the dual facts that 1) we’ll die and 2) he’ll have a lot of brother’s-keeping, Of-Mice-and-Men-shit to do in his life. So I’m putting off that conversation in my mind. Instead, I’m trying to brace myself for the day that our littler snowflake asks the following question, and we will all know perfectly well what he means: 

“Daddy, what’s wrong with Dawa?”

Perhaps the rest of the conversation might go a LITTLE something like this:

“It’s not that something’s wrong. Your brother has a condition called autism.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s a condition where he doesn’t necessarily speak or understand things the way that you and I do. He doesn’t want to connect with other people the same way.”

“Why can’t he talk?”

“Because of the condition.”

“Is it because he doesn’t like me? Or us?”

“No, sweetheart, it’s not because of that. He loves us, he just doesn’t know how to say it. Even when he’s running around tee-tee-tee-ing, he still loves us.”

“Am I going to have his condition?”

“No, sweetheart.”

“Can Dawa scream less?”

“Well, maybe. We’re working on it.”

“Can he act normal?”

“He acts normal for him. It’s just not the same as everyone else.”

“When is he going to be like everyone else?”

“Well, he’s always going to be a little different. That won’t change. What may change is how well he and we cope with his condition. We may be able to help him cope, maybe communicate more.”

“What can we do for Dawa?”

“We’re doing everything we can. That’s why people come into our house…to help him communicate. That’s why Daddy and Mommy play certain games with him, especially repeating games.”

“What can I do?”

“You can play those games with him! Try any game with him. Always share with him.”

“Do what now?”

“Sweetheart, you don’t have to run over from the other side of the room when you see him play with a toy that you forgot about five minutes ago.”

“I don’t?”

“You don’t have to shout ‘mine!’ quite so much.”

“Okay.”

“You know how when he spills something like blocks or cards, you often pick up his mess?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Well, your mother and I really appreciate that. I know we say Thank You, but just so you know, we really love that.”

“Okay.”

“Sweetheart, I know he’s older than you, but sometimes we need you to watch him and tell us about him.”

“Tell you what?”

“Tell us where he is or how he is.”

“Okay.”

“Also, I need you to tell me and Mommy how that feels for you. If it bothers you to watch Dar and take care of Dar, we need you to tell us.”

“Okay.”

“Any questions?”

“No.”

“Can I ask you a question?”

“Yes.”

“Do you love your brother?”

(Pause) “I don’t know.”

(whispering) “Sweetheart, can I tell you a secret?”

(whispering) “Okay.”

(whispering) “I need you to love your brother. That’s the thing I need the most. That’s the thing I want the most. Later in life, when we have to rely on you…I need you to have a love for your brother that you couldn’t change even if you wanted to.”

(whispering) “Okay.”

(whispering) “So if you want to make Daddy happy, if you want to make Mommy happy, you’ll love your brother. And if something keeps you from loving your brother, you’ll tell us. If you want him in your bedroom, you’ll tell us. If you want him out of your bedroom, you’ll tell us. If you want him to play with you and he won’t, you tell us. If you don’t want him to play with you, you tell us. You need to let us know, do you understand?”

“Yes.”

“Don’t leave it for us to guess. We can’t read your mind.”

“I know.”

“And I know that you often let us know. But just so you know…we always want to know.”

“Okay.”

“Now that we’ve talked about this, we could add this to night-night. So, you brush your teeth, you wash your face, I tuck you in, I read you a story, and then before lights-out I ask you if you have any thoughts you want to share…about your brother or anything else.”

“Okay.”

“Any thoughts right now?”

“Nope.”

“Can I tell you what I’m thinking?”

“Okay.”

“I love you. Your mother and I love you so much, more than any words could ever say. You are an extraordinary child. You are the light of our lives. You have a wonderful personality and…whatever happens, we want to be sure that your light shines as brightly as it does right now.”

“My light?”

“It’s an expression.”

“Daddy?”

“Yes?”

“I think I’m ready for lights-out.”

(I laugh.) “Okay, sweetheart. Night-night.”

“Night-night.”