Being Elizabeth’s big sister has taught me more life lessons than I can count. I had no idea just how much the Lord is able to use my pain for His glory until I experienced what it’s like to be the big sister of a little girl with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
I have been Elizabeth’s caregiver since she was a baby. To both Elizabeth and Isabella (whom we affectionately call Izzy), I’m their second mommy. There’s an ongoing joke in our house that I’m Mommy #2, which is certainly true, because they appreciate my company and assistance, but they definitely know I’m not Mom! lol
It has been one roller coaster of a journey to be the caregiver of a toddler with autism. When you’re one of the primary caregivers of someone with special needs, you begin to create a dictionary of them in your head. In other words, you unintentionally begin to remember how they respond in certain situations, what words and sounds they use to get certain points across, and how their body language and facial expressions represent something much deeper than the eye can see. It is absolutely amazing. It takes a lot of effort, courage, strength, and patience to properly care for someone like Elizabeth, and those four traits are qualities the Lord is still working on fully developing in me.
There are days when my mom and I aren’t able to help Elizabeth to stay happy, but there are also days that go by beautifully. One huge thing Elizabeth is teaching me is to take life one day at a time. I used to look at the big picture so much instead of really focusing on all the good stuff I have going on today.
One thing I’ve been doing for months to encourage Elizabeth to understand new concepts are word games. Usually, they incorporate music, but more recently, I’ve been focusing on her pronunciation of things and her ability to distinguish between similar items. Spending time figuring out how to make learning fun is definitely preparing me to homeschool my own kids one day, which I think is awesome! If I’d gone off to college last fall instead of staying home to be with my family, I wouldn’t have gotten to have all of these amazing opportunities to learn. I’ll be able to apply a lot of this knowledge to my life later on, and I’m very excited about that.
There are so many little things that Elizabeth does that still bring me great joy. The simplest of advances are HUGE for her, so you can imagine how monumental actually huge accomplishments are! While I’m always stoked about the things Elizabeth is learning, this tendency has also helped me to appreciate all of the little blessings present in the rest of my life, too. It has been a beautiful shift of mindset to be able to love the small things in life, as well as being extremely thankful for the big ones.
Life is so much happier when you’re able to love everything you have, both great and small.
The last thing I want to mention is just how much I adore Elizabeth and Izzy’s relationship. For most of Izzy’s babyhood, Elizabeth wouldn’t get near her. Sometimes, she seemed scared of her, but for the most part, she was just extremely uncomfortable. I think Izzy was probably ten months old or so when Elizabeth was finally okay to touch her, and since then, their little friendship just took off! They love chasing each other around, parallel-playing, cuddling with our mom, and watching their favorite shows together. I never thought they’d be able to be close because of Elizabeth’s difficulties … but I know that the Lord made their relationship possible.
There are times when I’ve thought that something Elizabeth was struggling with would be a permanent part of her life. However, over and over again, she’s shown me and our family that the hardships she faces are not going to be in her life forever. She makes advances every single day. Even though there are days when she seems to take a few steps backward, that doesn’t deny the fact that her progress is continually moving forward. The Lord has taught me, through my relationship with Elizabeth, that there will always, always be hope.
Whatever you’re facing right now is not the end. ❤