Being a Wellness Ally to My Autistic Sister

My sister Kendra teaches me more about wellness than anyone else in my life,  but she doesn’t bestow her wisdom through typical conversations. Kendra is autistic and nonverbal, so she doesn’t communicate much through spoken words. Instead, she teaches me about wellness in the confident way she carries herself and her willingness to convey her needs to the best of her ability. And yet, as the two of us sojourn further into womanhood, I cannot help but worry about her. I worry because, oftentimes, in certain influential spheres, discussions of wellness do not include considering the unique challenges faced by women like Kendra. I worry that, out of sisterly concern, I’ll speak for Kendra instead of helping her speak, failing to honor her agency. And most of all, I worry that, in the midst of expressing herself, Kendra will be dangerously ignored or grossly misunderstood. In spite of all these confessed fears, however, I want to be the best wellness ally possible to Kendra and to trust her to show me how to uplift her voice. 

Growing up, Kendra and I reached major physical milestones at roughly the same time. I am only 15 months older than her, so it isn’t surprising that we are so close. She and I both started crawling and walking early, and considering how active my entire family is, that didn’t surprise my parents in the slightest. Kendra and I were very similarly rambunctious toddlers, but while I had started talking at 8 months old, Kendra didn’t say much at all. Sometimes, as Kendra and I got older, well-meaning family friends would joke about me being able to talk enough for the both of us. I am still rather loquacious to be fair, but that does not mean that I ever had the ability or the authority to speak for Kendra. As close as we are, I can never claim to know exactly what she is thinking or feeling, especially as she learns more about her developing female body. 

In navigating life with my sister, the future holds a lot of uncertainty. If the present moment with the coronavirus pandemic has taught me anything, it has shown how fragile life and the plans one makes for it really are. Determining next steps for Kendra has always been at the forefront of my family’s goals, but this pandemic has really emphasized how important it is for us to thoughtfully address Kendra’s needs. And just like eventually emerging on the other side of these current circumstances, for everything I worry about pertaining to Kendra’s future, I also have hope. I hope that further research will be done on the specific ways autism impacts women and all aspects of their health. I hope that impactful conversations about wellness will be more intentional in considering neurodiversity at-large. And most of all, I hope to do everything I can to be Kendra’s wellness ally as she takes the world by storm. 

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