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Dec 27 2011

Hanukkah, Autism, and Captain America

By at 5:52 pm

captain americaMy son Zack was 2 when his big brother noticed him for the first time. One minute we were all hanging out on the couch in our pajamas; the next Benjamin was on top of Zack, giving him a bear hug. Every couple of minutes he’d get up, only to pounce on the little guy again seconds later.

The whole time (and it went on for quite a while) my husband and I sat there speechless, shocked and amazed and choked up by the sight of our autistic (and therefore seriously socially delayed) 4-year-old finally showing affection toward his little brother. And Zack, well, Zack just lay there, grinning like a 7th grade girl who’d just learned her crush liked her back.

It’s been almost four years since that lovefest and I’m sad to report there haven’t been too many repeat performances. I’m not saying my boys don’t have a relationship. They do, and in fact it happens to be a relationship that is very special and unique. Zack watches out for his big brother, and he’s the first one to yell out, “Good job, I’m so proud of you!” when Benjamin says a new word or learns a new skill. I know Benjamin loves his brother back, but unfortunately autism makes it pretty impossible for him to express that. I think Zack gets it, but still, I feel for the kid. It sucks to give and give and give without getting anything back.

That all changed recently, when Zack opened a Captain America doll, the Hanukkah gift his brother had chosen and wrapped for him. See, Benjamin’s school had this totally brilliant idea to take a field trip to the mall. Parents sent in cash and listed the recipients’ interests (superheroes for Zack and Elmo for Ayla, our youngest), and the students (with some guidance from their teachers, I suspect) went shopping for their loved ones.

As usual, Benjamin didn’t seem to register Zack’s over-the-moon, “Thanks Benjamin, I love it!” But what happened a couple of days later was just as rewarding. I walked into our playroom and found Benjamin holding Captain America and pressing the button that makes him talk. This, from a kid who barely ever touches anything in that obnoxiously fully-loaded playroom.

Obviously Benjamin’s choice wasn’t arbitrary. He liked that chatty, leotard-clad figurine, and I like to think he thought Zack would like it, too. I also like to think they’ll be playing with it—together—soon.

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