Christianity

Through His Eyes: A Teen Sister’s Point of View on Autism

Hi everyone! Today’s post will be a bit different from usual. It’s an article I submitted months ago to a popular autism awareness organization, only never accepted. I do believe, however, its message must be shared, so the passion and morals of this story outweighs my typical adherence to theology, literature, and poetry. Let it sink in your heart and show you the beauty of God-given diversity in all your neighbors around the world this Christmas. Enjoy!

Sometimes children are the greatest of teachers.

Yes, adults usually give the best guidance, yet the youngest of children can occasionally open our eyes to a whole other realm of counsel. Whether reminding us of things long forgotten or keeping our proper focus intact, a child’s insight is always unexpected—and at times, sorely needed. As a teenager and also the eldest of five, I’ve witnessed this firsthand as I’ve both guided my siblings along in their lives and have sometimes been chastened by their down-to-earth sense of what’s right and why it’s so.

But one of my brothers and sisters is different. He cannot speak as well as the rest of us—nor does he even look at his siblings sometimes—but he still speaks just as well to my heart. He simply does so in a different language—the language of autism. 

Autism is among the most difficult languages to understand, yet as I’ve tried to draw myself into Eli’s world—a world of faraway stares and energetic scripting—I’ve realized that it’s also laden with some of life’s most precious lessons. Because of that, I think my little brother is definitely one of my greatest teachers, and I’m overjoyed at what he’s taught me through the years.

1. Appreciate the little things.

As people grow older, their focus usually revolves around the small things during childhood, then shifts to what is allegedly “bigger and better.” Perhaps it’s because our stress only tends to swell along with our age. However, age does not seem to touch those with autism. It’s as if time stops for them, and they can never outgrow the sweet beauty of little things.

With my youngest brother, little things matter the most. Whether he’s watching a garage door whirr up and down or intently lining up his cars on the kitchen counter, Eli always spends a great deal of time observing the things we’d usually call trivial. Yes, strangers may say that what he does is a waste of time, but Eli considers the little things important—and they often are.

I remember standing with my brother outside one night. It had been a stressful time, and I hungered for rest and peace. Eli did not seem to notice, but eventually my weary mind consumed me. I didn’t know what to do. As I struggled with myself, he said something that forever altered my life.

“Look! It’s the moon!”

As random as it was to hear him say something of that sort, I took delight in it. I still remember—it was a full and white moon that night. For a few moments I stood there with him, whispering, “Yes, it is.” The moon seemed to break away all my worries away from me, and it was at that moment I realized my desperate need for a lesson in stillness, in calm observance of the little things we so often forget about.

2. Consider patience and determination as {very necessary} virtues.

As with everyone else I know, Eli is not perfect. I’d like to say that I love him as every good “big sister” would, overlooking whatever annoys me sometimes—but I can’t. It’s not true, and it’s because it’s not true that I’ve begun to learn what true patience entails.

Eli’s fear of new and unfamiliar things or people often makes him scream uncontrollably. Half of me pities him, but the other half hates going through these situations over and over again. Usually he is the most frightened in the worst place to yell, and when he does yell, everyone around us gives us intimidating looks, sometimes those full of anger and suspicion. Yet how could I ever tell them what I’m experiencing at that moment?

I don’t know if I can ever answer that question, but because of those experiences I do know this: I must be patient to understand his needs, and I must continually determine myself not to care of what others may think about him or me.

But patience isn’t only required in the times we wish we were not related to someone with autism. It’s also required in the quieter circumstances. Only recently I learned a term describing a common form of communication within the autism language—scripting. Eli loves to script, meaning that almost all of what he says is a recital of phrases he’s picked up from books, movies, television shows, and songs. He loves seeing exaggerated emotion, words that sound pretty to him, or phrases that remind him of some happy memory. 

The thing is, he almost always inserts those obscure phrases in conversation. It’s one of the things that’s most special about him. He loves seeing others talk and laugh together, and he really wishes he could join in. So he says the things most familiar to him, the things that aren’t usually familiar to us—like Ted packed the tools (from the Fred and Ted books by P.D. Eastman) or Make a rainbow wish! (a phrase from “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood”). It may seem to others that he doesn’t mean anything by these bits and pieces, yet if someone spends enough time with him, he’ll find that Eli is trying to say something about what’s he feeling, what he wants, what he needs. But if these phrases are too obscure, we’re at a loss to help him.

This is where patience comes in. When he says something unfamiliar, we have to be on the lookout for patterns in which he says those phrases, whether those patterns are in his environment or in his feelings. Then we have to see what those patterns have in common with each other, asking Eli questions, patiently gathering clues so we can understand. Through this process, my brother has taught me both patience and determination—the same patience and determination needed to go the extra mile for better communication with and understanding of others.

3. Love without limit.

Through it all, Eli has taught me that love should know no bounds. As I’ve watched him grow and learn, I’ve also noticed that he’s hardly inclined to angry arguments with his siblings, rebelling against his parents, or participating in any other kind of little-boy mischief. Now he does disobey at times—he’s only six years old and still needs to mature a great deal—but I would never venture to say that he has a heart of ill-will. That’s not Eli.

In fact, I think he’s a peacemaker. When I think of him, I think of the calm and patient young boy who silenced the other kid who yelled at him so meanly. I think of Eli, always being the first to cry in sympathy over some other sibling being punished for their wrong, as if he wished above all else that the world was always at peace like he was. I think of the innocent young smiles he’s never hesitated to give us when we’re depressed, angry, or hurt. And then I think of myself—where are those qualities in me? 

That’s the beauty of autism. We see those who have it also have a sweet and genuine love for others, a love so beautiful that it convicts us.

When the world is burning over with chaos, when we are tired of where we’re living, when we are thirsty for change, sometimes all it takes is a gaze into a child’s innocent, laughing eyes to dissipate the worries. But to tell the truth, I’ve never seen as innocent or as mirthful eyes as those of my young brother dealing so admirably with autism. As I watch him continue to fight against his disorder, overcoming his obstacles one by one, I’ve found myself all the more determined to understand his world. It’s colored; it’s looked down upon; it’s often ignored; but when you see the world through the autism spectrum, I promise you a precious, glimmering spectrum of rainbows. That world is worth understanding.


Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” ~Luke 18:12-17, ESV

 

~Sarah Merly

December 8, 2018

Isaiah 53