I was able to get some quiet time with Ronan’s younger sister late last week. She’d longed for a mommy date for a few weeks. I knew we’d soon run out of time to do a “just us” outing with a new school year quickly approaching. My schedule was tight, but I was able to squeeze in about 2 hours with Izzy on Friday morning. She and I got some errands done and were able to have some neat conversations. The first one was my favorite.
As we left the driveway, I started out with Three Things. She was to answer giving only one-word replies to the following prompts: Tell me three things that make you happy. Tell me three things that make you smile. Tell me three people you look up to. Tell me three things you want to know more about. Tell me three people you pray for… Izzy couldn’t stick to the one-word reply though with what makes her smile. She’d answered ‘Ronan’s laugh.’ I told her that that sound was in my top three things that makes me smile, too.
Izzy’s answers to the other queries were ones I expected her to say. Names of her best friends, of her favorite family members and of fun events she’d enjoyed with those people peppered several of her answers. The one where I asked her what 3 things she wanted to know more about didn’t surprise me either. She replied: ASL (American Sign Language), vaccines, and the human body. Each of the topics have been part of hundreds of past conversations she’s heard here in the house. Where Ronan’s big sister has had more chances to be vocal about those topics, both at home and with peers, Izzy’s been mostly quiet. In our next conversation, I learned that she’s almost ready to talk about those three things.
I said to Iz, “Those are interesting. Can you tell me why you picked them?”
“Well, ASL because I want to talk to Ronan more. I want to have him talk to me more with his signs, too. We could work on communication together.”
“Vaccines, because I don’t know enough about them, and that goes into the next thing…the human body. I need to know what the doctors are telling people to take and do when they’re sick or need some kind of treatment…and I don’t know enough yet.”
She continued, “I want to know more about what the body’s supposed to be doing. I could start by studying the parts of the body and what their normal function is. That way, when a doctor prescribes something, like saying that someone needs a certain medicine or a vaccine, I want to know why that medicine would be needed. I want to know if it could help…and also understand what to do if it hurts the body. Like, you know… when vaccines hurt Ronan.”
Never in my early teens, or 20s or 30s for that matter, did I ever feel the need to learn what my daughter is desiring to know more about. Before the moment was lost, I asked Izzy to tell me more about what she’d do with the information. I said, “You’re awfully young to be thinking about these kinds of things.”
“There’s no age limit to learning this stuff.”
And she’s right.
She continued, “I’m drawn to it because of what Ronan’s experienced, but the average 13 year old hasn’t lived a life like mine—with a brother with autism. It would be nice to have other kids try to learn as much as I have, and to still want to learn, to prevent the possibilities of (vaccine) injuries. Imagine how different the world would be if more people understood that some of this could be prevented.”
We then talked about what she did know from previous conversations she’s heard over the years, that vaccines are risky and offer no guarantees. That lead to why it would be important to learn more about the body and systems like the immune system. Talking about the role of the immune system lead to Izzy asking questions about ways someone can boost it, like taking supplements and avoiding people who are sick. Boosting it naturally made more sense to her now, which brought us back to vaccines and why they can be dangerous for some people. She summed up what we’d just covered simply and perfectly, “Their life can be risked instead of helped.” Saying that out loud made her wonder why people opted for that. Which brought us back to her desire to better understand how the human body works.
We’d reached our destination by that time. I told Izzy that she had some great thoughts and some very good questions. I encouraged her to take time to start looking up what she needed to when we were back home. Before we got out of the car, I told her, “You know what? You’re thinking about things that could lead you down a path toward a few neat careers – as a medical person, a teacher, or even a therapist.” Izzy smiled. She’s a natural at helping Ronan. I wouldn’t be surprised if the experiences she’s had with her brother will shape her future academic and work choices.
I told her she’s years away from having to make any big decisions but the knowledge she wants to gain now could help a lot of people later. “I don’t know yet,” Izzy said, “but I do know that I’m not ready to talk about it. I don’t like bringing things like this up (with friends). When other people bring them up first, I don’t feel like I have enough information to say anything. That’s why I want to learn more about these 3 things just in case I ever want to talk about what happened to my brother.” Out of all my children, even though she’s quite personable, Izzy likes to keep to herself. She takes in a lot. She keeps a lot in, too. She’ll go days without telling me about something negative that might have happened at school, usually hoping to solve a problem on her own. But sometimes she stays quieter because she knows I already have a lot on my plate as I juggle life, her typical siblings, and Ronan. She doesn’t want to add anything more to what I’m already handling.
I smiled and ended our Three Things conversation with, “I’d say that you’re off to a good start by just wanting to know more, honey. I’m proud of you for wanting that. If you ever feel like it’s time to speak up about Ronan and what happened to him, let me know. I’ll be happy to help you find the right words.”
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.