Wheels spin across the floor.
Her whole body laughs as my daughter catches her end. With a “wheeee” she turns the plastic shopping cart around, sending it gliding to her brother.
Giggling as he accepts the flying cart, my son's shouts his “wheeee” a bit louder and sends the cart back again.
They take turns again and again, trading “wheees” and laughter and a plastic shopping cart.
Before long she comes in.
I light up because she is headed their way, the giggles just enough to pull her in.
Will she join them? Will they look to her? I hold back my urge to arrange the scene to fit them all.
Walking right through that sailing cart's path she stops the wheels. Unphased, my little ones move a bit, trying to finish their game.
But their big sister does it again. Stops the next “wheee” before the basket can be caught.
The weight of autism hits me harder than that cart, had it been full of bricks.
She wanted to join in.
This was her way to try to play.
She was doing the best that she could.
My younger children were not yet three at the time.
My oldest, 14.
In their two and a half years of development, they had learned social skills and reciprocal play and a bit of intuition.
In her 14 years of therapy, social skills training and special education she had not. My heart broke as the ease of their play cast more light on the difficulty of hers.
Having spent so long raising one child with autism, the shock of typical development in my younger children is something I had not prepared for when expanding our family.
I was nervous about the risk of having another child with autism, I knew how strong the genetic links were. But I had never once thought about the comparisons and how, in seeing the “normal” and the “easy” in my typically developing children, I may need some time to mourn the absence of this in my oldest.
I watch the relationships my younger children have, the effortless way they play, the carelessness they use in climbing on each other, imitating their favorite characters, playing in their basement band, and I can't help but feel the loss of it all for their sister.
Playing does not come without practice and guidelines. She flinches from an unannounced touch, does not quite grasp make-believe and covers her ears the minute an instrument is held.
Autism has stolen her ease, the relaxation and contentment of childhood, and she is almost an adult. It is not coming back.
But for every difference adding these little beings to our family has magnified, there has been a blessing in return.
Her siblings have offered my daughter a non-judgmental audience; welcome little friends who don't care if she looks them in the eye or says hello before she begins to speak.
Unconditional love has been magnified for her and when she wants to play a game or watch a cartoon she has a three-foot tall group to pick from, just in case she needs company (or someone to throw her game pieces all over the floor).
There are times I think that close family and friends is the only circle of acceptance our children can count on.
Autism can be such a hard disorder for unknowing eyes to understand. I watch my children interact and see the love connecting them all.
Although she might not find the perfect words to say it, and her unfailing honesty may give you a long explanation for why being an only child is wonderful, my daughter loves her siblings in ways she can't truly express.
Her shopping cart is full and they won't ever mind pushing it for her.