We didn’t have “normal” babysitters growing up. Picking one of the teenage girls from the neighborhood to stay with a limited verbal kid with autism wasn’t really an option. As such, our parents didn’t go on many date nights when we were younger. The only people they trusted to stay with us before I was old enough to play babysitter were family members or the young women who assisted with Dude’s home therapy program.These were the people who knew Dude best outside of our immediate family.
As Mom and Dad walked out the door, they would say, “Call us if you need anything. But Julianne can probably answer any questions you have better than we can.”
I would smile proudly. I was a 9-year-old who was an EXPERT in something. Heck yea!
One night, when Dude was 7, the babysitter/therapist staying with us was Allison. We sat down to dinner. Dude, who has never been a great eater, was pulling out all his tricks to avoid consuming his food. He turned around in his chair to look at the willow tree gently swaying in the breeze, he spouted off lines of gibberish and tried to get us repeat him, he hummed and pushed his right ear into his shoulder while clamping his left hand down on his left ear.
Finally, he resorted to his tried and true method.
Dude was a little late to both the potty training party and the talking party. As such, when he put words and concepts together, we acted quickly to reward whatever he intimated.
At some point, Dude figured out that if he said “potty,” he could get out of whatever he was doing and have a nice little break in the bathroom regardless of whether he actually had to go or not.
Allison headed off to the bathroom with Dude.
Five minutes passed and they still hadn’t returned. I could hear him giggling and humming to himself. Allison was asking, “Are you sure you have to go potty?” “Yes,” came his high-pitched reply.
I wandered in the direction of the powder room and poked my head in.
“Does he have to go Number 1 or Number 2?” I asked Allison.
“Umm, Number 2 I think. He sat down when he came in,” she responded.
This was a great opportunity to showcase my Dude knowledge!
“Hmm.. well does he have goosebumps?” I asked.
“What?” Allison tilted her head questioningly at me.
“Does he have goosebumps?” I repeated. “If he has goosebumps, he definitely has to go. If he doesn’t, he’s just messing with you,” I concluded self-assuredly.
I watched as Allison’s face morphed from confusion to amusement. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and kept her mouth from twitching into a smile.
“Aha,” she said, struggling to adopt a tone of “I’m-going-to-take-this-child-seriously-because-she’s-being-dead-serious.”
I noticed all these things and grew self-conscious. If there was one thing I hated from a young age, it was adults who didn’t take me seriously or who talked down to me just because of my age. “What?” I asked, genuinely confused. “I’m just trying to help! Like Mom said!”
It never occurred to me that it’s unusual for a nine-year-old to know all about her brother’s Number 2 habits.