Same But Different
"And then, as I'm trying on a really cute pair of jeans, and
feeling free of my brother, he--well the mention of him--finds his way
into what was supposed to be my afternoon, when Mom starts talking
about what we can do to help him.
Oh God, Mom, no! I'm thinking. He's not here. He's NOT here.
We are away from him. You and me. Far away. And NOT him. Can we
just have one day without Charlie?!"
Same But Different explores what autism means from a family
perspective. Ryan (girl) and RJ (boy) are twins. RJ has autism; Ryan
doesn't. In alternating chapters they share their perspectives of
shared experiences. Holly Robinson Peete, who also has two younger
sons, is the mom who has to balance everyone's needs. She adds very
poignant chapters at the beginning and end.
Very few things can be taken for granted in the Peete family.
Life is centered around RJ's precariousness. All food, even pizza,
must be gluten free. All transitions must be carefully planned for.
Even then there's no way to prevent melt downs including very public
Ryan (Callie in the book) experiences a wide range of emotions
in regard to her twin. Sometimes she wants to protect him; sometimes
she resents the assumption that she will be the responsible one. She
loves him and is deeply concerned when he retreats into a shell. A
poignant example is when he loses his beloved dog. Still...
"...I joined track as soon as I started middle school. I knew I
wanted to be part of a team. Part of a group that lets me just be.
Part of something Charlie wasn't part of."
RJ (Charlie in the book) has serious limitations like inability
to read social cues. Stimuli that don't faze others torture him. He
describes changing rooms between classes:
"Go to my locker.
Struggle with the code.
Put back one set of books. Pull out another.
Kids all talking LOUDLY.
Bright lights that slice at me.
Colors that punch me in the eyes."
Knowing his mother likes him to believe it RJ says he has
autism; it doesn't have him. Sometimes he isn't so sure, living in a
world of confusion and stares and what he considers micro managing (as
in social media use) by parents and his sister.
Mom Holly herself is in uncharted and often quite frightening
"As RJ's mother, I have advocated myself down to a pulp since
the day he was diagnosed with autism. It's an ongoing battle--not
just for me alone, but for our entire family. We have firsthand
experience as passengers on the Autism Express. It can be a wild
ride, with sky-high peaks set against quick, unexpected plummets to
places so low, I've despaired of ever getting out of the valley."
This book is amazingly honest, candid, and insightful. Read it
if a human heart beats in your chest.
On a personal note, having a seriously disabled sibling creates strong
and confusing feelings long after childhood ends. Love and concern
can be balanced against more taboo feelings like fear of being put in
charge of an adult sibling and wanting to be known as one's own
person. Let me tell you. Somehow guilt manages to push its way in.
A great big shout out goes out to people with disabilities and their
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