She stands behind me, quiet as always when she meets new people. It's not that it would be noticed if she spoke up, anyway. All eyes are on her brother. Mister Congeniality. The star of the show.
It's hard not to adore David. He's not your usual child with autism (if there even is such a thing). He's funny and loud and extremely social with adults. He's also very, very cute and he knows it, milking it and using it to his advantage whenever he can. Wherever we go, he's front and center, and Anna hangs back, silent and beautiful.
"Aren't you cute?" The stranger will say. "What's your name?"
"DAVID!" He screams with glee. "My name is David!!"
I'll stand there making small talk, smiling at David's antics as he dances or jumps or begins reciting lines of movie dialogue. Sometimes, I need to explain what he's saying for contextual purposes. Eventually, I realize that Anna is standing there watching. Watching, and waiting.
"Oh, this is Anna," I say. "She's David's sister."
I cringe mentally as I say it, berating myself every time it happens. Why do I do that? She's so much more than just David's sister. I want to tell them that she's practically a damn genius, testing out at a ninth grade level in math at the beginning of her fourth grade year. I want to tell them that she draws and paints amazing pictures, that she can tell a story from her imagination that will leave you spellbound, that she's so witty and can turn a phrase so well you will laugh until you cry. Most of all, I want to tell them how hard it is to be the sibling of a special needs child, always in the shadows. Never getting the accolades for accomplishing the everyday things as he does, because you're the normal kid who doesn't need that level of affirmation. Always being the one who gets introduced second, after somebody remembers you're there.
Of course, that's not easy to work into a conversation, particularly one that's dominated by the unstoppable force that is David.
So I try every way that I can think of, when I think of it, to let her know that she's still front and center to me. I just wish I thought of it more, but it's hard when you have something as all-consuming as autism jumping in your face and running circles around you on a regular basis. Still, when we're laying in bed together at night after her brother goes to sleep, sharing our special "just us" time, I try to hammer home how amazed I am that she is mine, and how lucky both David and I are to have her.
Soon we begin the nightly ritual where she tiptoes into the other bedroom to straighten David's covers so he won't be cold during the night. Then she jumps onto my bed, limbs flailing, usually making some goofy face or singing some outrageous song parody she made up, settles in, and just before she falls asleep, her hand reaches out and holds mine, as if to be sure that I'm still there.
And for a few overnight hours, there's nobody else in my world but her.