Growing up my life has been a little different from the lives of others. I’ve grown up with a loving mother, a caring father, and a very special sister. We live in complete happiness and fight almost all the average day to day tasks that everyone else faces. What makes my life so different? My older sister was born with autism, a developmental disorder that delays communication and thought process skills. My sister’s brain comprehends things slower than the average 18 year old girl; her mental capacity is like a 4 year old instead of a teenager’s. Autism isn’t necessarily something you can “get” and reasons for having autism are still unknown to doctors today.
My parents told me that my sister was always a quiet baby. She would never cry or make a fuss when she was upset and she would sleep a lot. After finding out that my sister had autism, my parents weren’t sure whether or not to have another baby, but surprise, surprise! I unexpectedly came into the picture. Everyone was a little hesitant for my parents to have a second daughter because they all believed that I wouldn’t have a “normal” childhood. Boy were they right. Mine was a lot more different, but special!
When I was born, unlike my sister, I was loud and made sure that others knew when I was upset! I am very different from my sister. From the day we met, we’ve been inseparable! Although Rebecca is a year older than me, she learned how to walk and talk around the same time that I did when we were younger. According to my mom, ‘Becca would learn how to do things by copying me. It was as if I was “her little teacher.”
I also taught my sister how to laugh. Yes, to laugh! Something that happens everyday to most of us was a struggle for my sister to express. You see, because autism delays communication skills, its very hard for people with autism to express themselves. A simple laugh calls for a big celebration at my house! My family had just bought a new camera and we were posing for countless pictures. I kept fooling around and making funny faces. When my parents laughed at my silly gestures, my sister joined in and started laughing hysterically! We all stopped for a second and just starred in awe! Rebecca was laughing! In that moment, my dad clicked the best picture! I still carry a copy of that old 1990′s picture with my sister’s thick rimmed glasses and happy bright smile. It reminds me that even though the smallest things can be a struggle, they can happen with enough patience and faith.
Rebecca’s lack of communication skills has not only made my family and I have a bigger appreciation for the little things (like smiling and laughing), but has also taught us to be more cautious. Lack of communication doesn’t allow us to know when Rebecca is hurt or sick. When ‘Becca was 5 fell from her bed and had a hairline fracture on her tibia. She did not tell us how much pain she was in and we didn’t know about her injury until weeks later when she had a regular check up with her doctor and her leg was already healing. It can be a bit frustrating and hard to figure out how my sister feels or what’s going on through her mind.
When I was younger, I remember always playing Barbies with my sister. Even though she didn’t understand my fantasy princess world, she still made an effort to play. It would get a little frustrating when she would, unpurposely, knock over my doll house furniture set that I had spent hours setting up. My cousin Chris help me create a new game by making Barbie have “super powers” to jump high over the knocked over table or lift the entertainment set back up. My cousin stayed with us while his mom worked and he was the brother that I never had. Together, we shared the same love for my sister and we helped each other when one of us was getting too frustrated. No matter how patient you are, autism is hard to understand and can be especially frustrating for little kids.
Our life has consisted of many doctors from regular pediatricians to psychologists to neurologists. Over the years, unfortunately, autism wasn’t the only battle that my family and I had to face. There was a time when Rebecca had experienced seizures. It was very painful and hard to watch my sister shake uncontrollably with the power to do nothing to help. After many tests, Rebecca’s neurologist was able to give her medicine to stop the seizures. Rebecca is also legally blind with tunnel vision and has very poor peripheral sight. For a while, she’d grab my arm for support when walking and I’d tell her “step” at stairs. Now, she has learned how to be more independent with a cane.
My sister and I went to the same elementary school and her teacher was amazing; Mrs. Jaquez was the best special ed teacher anyone could find. She taught my sister the alphabet and how to improve her communication skills. She was very nice and got me very involved in the class too! I would volunteer with Mrs. Jaquez’s class over the summer and I had learned a lot more about children with disabilities. Soon I became the “go-to-girl” if any of my friends wanted to know “why that kid was acting that way,” or “what is a disability.” At a very young age, I was teaching others new things about something that was so normal to me. Then middle school came and Rebecca went to a different school, but we were reunited again when high school rolled around. I would walk her to her class. We’d bump into each other and have a celebratory hello, and at the end of the day she’d tell me all the details about her day.
I will admit that sometimes it can be a little hard with my sister and can get a little lonely too. I’ve learned to be a more independent because a lot of my parent’s attention was focused on my sister when we were growing up. I’ve also had to learn from my own mistakes. I can’t necessarily go up to my older sister for advice on boys or clothes, so for peer advice I turn to friends.
Although at moments I wish I had a “normal” older sister, I am very thankful for the sister I have today! Even though she’s different, she’s still like any other teenage girl. She still gets awkwardly nervous around a cute boy and loves to listen to the latest “cool” music. She’s never ceases to amaze me with some of the funny comments she comes up with and sometimes, I promise you, she’s a lot smarter than you think!
Although many family members have called me my sister’s “little teacher,” I have to say that she is the one who has taught me the most. She’s taught me to be more understanding of others, more patient and more considerate of others. She’s taught me about others with disabilities and has introduced me to a lot of very special people. She’s taught me to learn how to be more independent. She’s actually intrigued me to become a writer and possibly physiatrist to figure out the wonders of the brain. She’s taught me how to appreciate the little things, but most importantly she’s taught me how to truly live! Whatever is in the holding for Rebecca’s future, I know that it will defiantly have me in it. We will, like we have always been, be inseparable!