Ellen is my 10 year old daughter and has had a pretty atypical launch into this world. She catapulted into this unsuspecting planet in one hour flat and was quickly diagnosed as having a ventricular septal defect (a hole between the lower chambers of the heart). Even though cardiologists view this condition as relatively minor, when a paediatrician tells you your newborn baby has a heart problem, and there's a flurry of ECGs, X-rays and echo tests, it feels like there just isn't enough air to breathe.
We spent many years attending the cardiology outpatients in Crumlin Hospital and she became aware at a very young age that not all children arrive in bouncy, healthy packages. She knew that many children were sick and disabled, and that sometimes they died. Not because we told her, but because she saw them. Experience has a more profound impact on a developing psyche than hearing about things second hand, so she grew up with oodles of kindness, compassion and a surprisingly pragmatic outlook that sometimes shit just happens, and you have to deal with it.
When Ellen was seven, just two months after her little brother was diagnosed with autism, the cardiologist found that her VSD had resolved. We were delighted to get some good news after doing the autism circus. Ellen wasn't so impressed.
"I'll miss it" she said.
I can't decide if she missed the fact that having a heart defect, which became a part of her identity, had now vanished into the ether, or if it was the loss of our post-appointment trip to McDonald was a bigger grievance to her (yes, the irony of taking a heart kid to a fast food joint is not lost on me).
Either way, Ellen sees in the world in a direct and madly quirky style.
So having an autie brother has been much like having any little brother for Ellen. She loves him, fights with him and often finds him the biggest pain in the butt ever.
In the car this morning I was fretting about how I would manage Bob on a visit to a toy shop, as he was invited to a birthday party tomorrow and we needed to get a present. Dreadful visions of apoplectic autie kids being dragged out of said shop by peri-menopausal, wild haired mothers would surely make the evening news. Global warming might escalate and the sky may fall in. I was muttering away madly more to myself than to Ellen and I kinda forgot she was there.
Until a little voice from the back seat said "Mammy, if you believe you're in control, then Bob will believe you're in control and then you WILL do it".
I had to concentrate extra hard not to drive the car across the ditch.
Trying to act as if this was a perfectly normal observation for a small kid to make, I asked her "How do you know this Ellen?".
"Because this is what we do with the horses. It works."
Erm, this kid is 10.
My mini-behaviourist is on to something.
I pretended I was in charge, and Bob bought it.
Maybe horse-riding does cure autism after-all...