Missed Connections

Please take the bracelet, Bella, just take the bracelet…

I watched as Phaedra, after making a heartfelt speech, slid the blue plastic bracelet across the mattress to Bella, who lay hiding underneath her blanket on the top bunk.  Even though I knew what would likely happen, I hoped against hope that Bella would recognize how important it was to Phaedra that she accept this small peace offering.  But Bella couldn’t see it, just like she couldn’t see why it was so hurtful to tell Phaedra to her face that she didn’t want to be her friend.  My heart sank as I watched the blue bracelet slide back across the mattress, then it broke as Phaedra ran out of the room, sobbing.


As the girls get older, it’s becoming increasingly clear that autism has a profound effect on the dynamics of these sisters’ relationships.  Being a middle child, it leaves both Phaedra and Surrey without a playmate close to their own age.  They each desperately want to play with Bella, since she is closest to their ages.  Bella, however, usually prefers to play by herself, creating carefully staged, look-but-do-not-touch scenes in her dollhouse or with her dinosaurs.  While Surrey and Phaedra can and do play together sometimes, it’s hard for a three-year-old and seven [going on seventeen]-year-old to find common ground.  Bella’s meltdowns, while nowhere near as frequent as they were in the past, affect the girls differently than when they were younger.  While I had hoped that age would bring Phaedra the wisdom and experience to understand and deal with Bella’s sudden rage, it has had the opposite effect.  Age has bestowed upon Phaedra even more complex emotions that help her to understand exactly how deeply her feelings are hurt when Bella screams in her face or throws a toy across the room.

Sometimes, as I watch their struggles to interact gradually self-destruct into shouting and tears, I marvel at how I, an intelligent woman who has read so much, talked with so many professionals, and lived with these children for so long, can feel so utterly ill-equipped to handle this.  I try to rationally referee their arguments, but when your feelings are hurt over and over again by someone you love, how can you listen to logic?  How can you hear your mother’s words when your emotions and anxiety are blaring full-blast in your head?

10562618_10152702615418086_2883445146137610006_oI take comfort in the good moments.  I take comfort in three little girls running around the house with ice cream cones in their hands during those fifteen golden minutes before bedtime, screaming and giggling over some silly game that they spontaneously created together.  I take comfort in the sincere hugs given before Phaedra goes into her classroom on the mornings we’re running too late to catch her class waiting outside.  I take comfort in Bella suddenly looking concerned before stepping into the shower and asking, “Where’s Baby Surrey?” while Surrey is away at dance class.

I know they love each other.  I just wish I could make them understand each other.

Parenting an autistic child isn't easy, but it's also pretty amazing! These special kids are full of surprises. Read more about the daily struggles and lessons special needs parents experience when parenting a child with autism.

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12 Responses to Missed Connections

  1. Shirley says:

    Hoping and praying daily that the struggles become fewer and farther between

  2. Jessica says:

    Oh I so get this. You are an awesome mom and I know it’s hard to feel helpless. One day at a time…

    • Oh, I know you do. You’re pretty amazing yourself. I’m going to have “One Day at a Time” tattooed across my forehead backwards, so I can read it every time I walk past a mirror.

  3. angela says:

    I don’t have advice or anything like that. I just want you to know your words are heard, and that I hope it gets easier for your girls.

  4. Janel, I’m in tears. I love you to bits and pieces. I really, really do. I know life is a struggle for us all, and this is just your version of heartache. I know it comes and goes, too. But I still wish I could help.

    Big hugs. Big. Huge.

  5. Jester Queen says:

    We go through this. OH do we go through it. I’ve got a long-winded thoughtful response that was so long-winded that it was in danger of hijacking your post. Which I’ve accidentally done before. (Oh, speaking of people with Asperger’s, my psychiatrist recently confirmed I have it too. I’ve always wondered, and I’m not surprised.) Anyway, I’ll annoy you on Facebook instead 😉

  6. qwertygirl says:

    My oldest is ADHD, and the younger ones don’t always understand why he’s sometimes SUCH A JERK. Well, he’s also an 11 year old boy, which is part of it, but the fact is, the younger ones are a set of twins (9), and one that’s 16 months younger than they are (7). So their styles of play are more similar, and they’re not as inclined to consider “torment” a form of play. The oldest is never trying to be cruel, he just doesn’t get it that they don’t think it’s fun. And it honestly breaks my heart to hear them say, “GO AWAY! You CAN’T play with us!” He doesn’t always understand that he could try making the connection another way. When it’s one on one with any of the three of them (although especially his baby sister, whom he absolutely worships and who returns the emotion) he’s much, much better. But they get together in a group and it all falls apart. And I don’t know how to foster the relationship. So I can empathize a bit with your struggles, although I confess I have no constructive input to offer. I can’t figure out how to make mine get it, either! 🙂

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