Last night, as I sat quietly with Liv before bed, she confided in me:
The elementary school is putting on a musical production. She’s spending time in her music classes and after school learning lyrics and dance moves. She’s was very excited, until one of the dance moves looked too much like the flapping a dear friend of hers with autism does. It’s technically the American Sign Language word for “play,” or at least that’s the best descriptor I can think of. It’s not meant to be disrespectful, and I honestly don’t think it is, but it struck a nerve for Liv.
Not wanting to cause a scene, but still wanting to protect her friend, whom she thought was being “made fun of,” she stayed after class to voice her concern to the teacher. The teacher apologized for the offending gesture, and agreed to change the move to a fist-bumping alternative. Liv was placated.
I told Liv that she was right, but also wrong. I told her that I was very proud of her for standing up for her friend, but also that it’s a common enough ‘dance move’ that it wasn’t going to offend anybody. She said that her friend does that move so much, people would immediately think of him – and she didn’t want that to happen.
After sleeping on it, she got up early this morning to see me off to work and told me that when she’s at school, she thinks of her friend when she thinks of autism, not her brother.
“Jake doesn’t go to my school, so when I’m there, I don’t really think about him.” “I get home, and I think, ‘Oh yeah, my brother has autism, too.'”
I told her that when I listened in on a panel of adult women who all had brothers with autism, and they were asked what it was like to have a brother on the spectrum, they all gave the same answer: “What’s it like to NOT have a brother with autism?” None of these women had ever known anything different. I asked Liv the same question, since she’s never known the difference either. She said she didn’t want to talk about it. I left it alone.
I get so curious as to what’s going on in that little head of hers, but I know if I push, she’ll just push back. She’ll share when she’s ready.
To no one’s surprise, all of the women on that panel of adult siblings had grown up and chosen a career providing or coordinating services for those who cannot speak for themselves. I won’t be surprised either if my Liv turns out to be a social worker, special educator, or even lobbyist or professional advocate.
She’s certainly off to a great start.