By Jonathan Slack, Autism Home Support Services
As people who read the You Are Not Alone blog posts already know my sister Jennifer is severely impacted by autism. She can only say about a hundred words spontaneously and will never live independently. When I tell people about her, I occasionally hear how unfortunate it is that I live in Chicago and she lives in New York with my parents. After all it must be hard to communicate with her long distance.
While it is true that Jennifer does not talk to me on the phone, we have our own way of communicating from such long distances. When Jennifer was about twelve, she started to become a very good typist. Unfortunately she refused to write out her thoughts to others in her family. Her attitude has always been that we have lived with her for our entire lives, so we should all be able to understand what she is thinking based on her behavior. Jennifer’s attitude changed though when I went to college. I was no longer living with her every day, and I could no longer observe her behavior to understand how she was feeling.
I still remember the day I got my first message from Jennifer. I was a freshmen in college. I was in my dorm about to go out with some friends when my mom called me up and said, “Jennifer wants to talk to you on the phone”.
“How is that going to work?” I responded, with equal parts curiosity and surprise. I was told that Jennifer had typed out a message for me and that one of her devices was going to read me the message over the phone. Jennifer quickly got on the phone and hit the button on her device to start reading me the message. I will admit that in the beginning of the message I was still shocked over the fact that Jennifer wrote me a message after years of refusing to do so. Through the robotic voice Jennifer told me that:
- she missed me
- she was not feeling well (and yes she used the word well and not good, making it clear to me she had actually been listening to all of those grammar lessons over the years!)
- she was feeling a lot of pain in her stomach.
She ended the message by asking me when I was coming home because she missed me and wanted to go running with me. I always knew Jennifer missed me. After all when I left for college she cried herself to sleep in my bed for five days. Actually hearing from her that she missed me hit me in a different way though. Hearing your sibling tell you that she misses you is something that a lot of brothers and sisters take for granted, but I treasured that moment. It is still the only time she has explicitly told me that she misses me.
Over the phone I told Jennifer that I loved her and that I want her to feel better. I was able to tell her a funny story about when our brother Kevin was sick and that made her laugh. I ended my part of the conversation by telling her I missed her and that I was going to be home in a month. After I finished talking there was a long pause. I asked Jennifer if she was going to write a message back to me, she responded by telling me “yes, not today”. We both said goodbye to each other and that’s when I shed some tears over the fact Jennifer called me. I never expected Jennifer to call me, or write me a message. Jennifer will call me about every 3 months with a message, but nothing compares to how I felt the first time it happened.