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When my wife and I found out we were expecting a third child, we both got morning sickness.
We were stupid with joy the first two times we got positive results on a home pregnancy test. Now we looked at those parallel blue lines the way our parents must’ve looked at our SAT scores, the day their dreams for us shifted from “Fulbright grant” to “Stafford loan.”
As I stared at that dipstick, I tried to process the idea that our nuclear family would soon be a party of five. We were even—Mom, Dad, 3-year-old boy, 1-year-old girl—and now we’d be odd.
I didn’t realize at the time that I had it backward: We were already odd, and this little intruder was going to bring something truly unique to the mix.
Our oldest, Harrison, has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism that creates beautiful minds devoid of the ability to connect with others. Now 9, he won’t bother returning a simple “hello” if he’s interested in something else, which is 98 percent of the time.
Our 6-year-old daughter has attention-deficit disorder, with some as-yet-undefined “multiplier” factor. She has off-the-charts creative energy but can go from ebullience to belligerence so fast you’d need instant replay to see the transition.
Seemingly against all odds, Annelise, our “accident,” is a completely different type of child: gentle, orderly, cooperative and caring, sometimes preternaturally so. Once, as I got in the car to drive her to day care, she started shouting “Dat! Dat!” from the back seat. A moment later my seat-belt warning went off. At 2, she was already watching out for my safety.
I’m not suggesting she’s better than or even different from other 4-year-olds; she has a stubborn streak, picks arguments with her siblings and whines with the best of ’em. But that’s what we find truly amazing: She blends. We don’t need meetings with educators and therapists to figure out strategies for keeping her on task and in sync with other kids. She just … is.
Having a kid who’s “neurotypical” (the official euphemism for “normal”) doesn’t change our feelings for the two who aren’t. As frustrating and unpredictable as they are, they’re also entertaining, and surprisingly often I mean that in a good way. I’ve never seen a single episode of a reality-TV series; if I did, I might miss my own. They’re also capable of a unique and spontaneous sweetness. Recently, our older daughter patiently coached Annelise as she tried to swallow medicine she was afraid to take. And Harrison once spent his allowance on a set of toy soldiers, not because he wanted them but because he knows I enjoy war movies and thought I’d want to play with them.
But Annelise brings something different to our home theater: a steadiness, a sense that at least one of us is capable of looking both ways before stepping off the curb. She can’t tell time yet, but already we get the impression she never loses track of it.
Best of all, she may go her entire life without a single “atypical” diagnosis. In our house, that makes her truly special.