I love my sister, Misty. I love her dark wild hair and olive skin. I love the insatiable joy she has when we pillow fight, and the grin that plasters her face when I dance to music. I loved her when she entered the world in 1995, and I love her now. Her entire being is something invaluable to me, but she is not a gift. More specifically, her difficulties and her burdens are not gifts to me.
Misty has Autism. The disorder that is bolded and underlined in headlines today, and presented as a scapegoat for tragedy. When we were children, I remember all the doctor’s visits, all the crying, all the screaming, and all the laughter. I remember my parents, toddlers themselves in the world of adulthood, scrambling in desperation to give Misty a good quality of life with what little information was available. As a unit, we tried to understand the complexities of Autism before Jenny McCarthy synthesized it into liquid, and stuck it in a syringe. More importantly though, I remember those telling me that Misty’s disability was gift. It was a gift that gave me strength, gave me courage, gave me patience. It was a platitude at was etched in letters written to me as a little girl, talked about in bible studies, and poured effortlessly out of people’s mouths with the coffee and donuts they had before a morning service.
Misty lost her voice early on. It’s not a surprise to those who are in the Autistic community. It is something we understand, something we all learn to adapt to. Unfortunately, as Misty’s verbal communication waned, others’ voices became louder. A din that echoed in my thoughts, it fed the guilt that I was so lucky, and she, well, wasn’t. Christians told me God had a greater purpose for me. So I cried. I couldn’t give my sister my own voice as badly as I wanted to, and instead of saying, “it’s ok to be two different people,” or, “your sister finds happiness in her own way,” I was told her Autism was a gift to me. They would tell me quietly, my hands sometimes folded into theirs, that these trials I was experiencing are teaching me something deeply valuable, and trading places would only keep me away from sharing the qualities I had acquired with others.
This idea that my sister’s Autism is a gift to me is selfish. It is a reiteration of ableism, and of lack luster sympathy. Misty was not given Autism for my benefit. God did not cause her brain to change quickly so that I could learn to be virtuous. My sister is not a pawn in my life, or in anyone else’s. Misty is a human with her own thoughts and experiences. She has her own interests, her own emotions, and her own worldview.
Christians, I beg you, please don’t put your personal beliefs on a platter, and present it to me as if my sister was a piece of God’s teaching curriculum.
She is not a gift because she is Autistic. She is a gift because she is my sister. She is gift because she is one of my best friends.