I gave birth to fraternal twins, a boy, and girl, back in 1996. When we learned that our son, Josh, was severely autistic, the joy of having multiples was dashed in a single diagnosis. But I was so overwhelmed in the first few months of our crisis that I didn’t mourn our loss. In those days no one knew much about autism except that you had to take action immediately. My husband and I educated ourselves quickly. We rushed to find programs, moved to another state, and obtained services. Josh had just turned three.
Several months later when the magnitude of our situation hit me, I developed an unfortunate complex. When strangers asked me about my kids—particularly people who were pregnant with twins or had twin toddlers, etc., I never mentioned that my son was autistic and brain-injured. I didn’t want to scare anyone. I didn’t want to rob them of their joy over my children–or theirs. I wasn’t ashamed of Josh; I was just considerate to a fault.
I continued lying by omission. I chose not to communicate with old friends because a discussion about Josh with people who didn’t know anything about the A word was too exhausting. I didn’t have the energy to explain the nuances of his multiple cognitive and sensory disorders. And I didn’t want anyone’s sympathy either—even though I was still grieving. Friends and family had been excited about my pregnancy because it had taken me five years to conceive. What was I going to tell them now? That my daughter was fine, but my son wasn’t? That they weren’t like real twins because I had to raise them differently?
But all that changed when my father passed away three years later. I was reeling with grief, and we decided to leave Josh at home with aides because I didn’t have the strength to take care of him. During the service, Josh’s six-year-old twin sister, Jordan, asked me to pick her up so she could say a few words to her grandfather. She said very clearly, “Papa, it was too hard for Joshie to be here today, and he can’t really talk yet, but he wanted me to tell you that he loves you.” And just then, in that surreal moment–I realized that my children’s twin connection was different but very real. Later in the afternoon when they were lowering my father’s casket into the ground, I remember Jordan throwing down a handful of dirt and saying, “Papa, this is from Joshie.”
I thank God every day that my children experience the transcendent closeness most parents dream about. Josh is still non-verbal at age twenty, but he communicates his love for Jordan in ways that don’t require speech. He won’t allow anyone to wrap their arms around him like his sister, and he smiles when she shows up from college and whispers, “Sissy.” And Jordan has devoted her life to him. She’s majoring in linguistics and anthropology, and minoring in neuroscience to get to the bottom of speech acquisition. Particularly his. She works with Josh when she’s in town, and with special-needs kids after school. I’ve learned that it’s not just about dressing your twins alike or sending them to the same camp. It’s about the blessing of a bond.
This post is part of a series of essays by the contributors to our second anthology, Multiples Illuminated: Life with Twins and Triplets, the Toddler to Twin Years. Subscribe to get new posts on your favorite reader as and when they’re published.
Shelley Stolaroff Segal is a playwright, performer, and essayist living in Greensboro, NC. My Son, her play about autism and race, premiered in NYC and was presented at TEDx East. Her non-fiction credits include The Washington Post, Blunt Moms, Voices from the Spectrum, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Multiples Illuminated, and From Sac Literary Journal. In addition to creating an album of children’s music, she’s been working on the same book for six years now and is hoping it will literally write itself one day. Find her on her website.