- Diseases, Disorders & Conditions
Being a Good Aunt with Asperger's
Despite my Asperger's and Social Anxiety Disorder, I love being an aunt. From what I've read online, it's a common trait among people on the Autism Spectrum to get along best with people either significantly younger or older than them, and for me that's completely true. My best friend is 18, when he lived at home I always chose to hang out with my younger brother rather than anyone else, and my young nieces and nephew love me.
A Visit from the Nieces
When I woke up this morning, it was to the sound of my five year old niece's hushed voice. I've always joked that it's impossible to sneak up on me, and I'm thinking now that my auditory sensitivity to noise of all kinds has given me this "ninja" quality. She had peeked into my bedroom, saw me wrapped in my covers, and whispered, "She's sleepin'!" The door closed again, and I lay in bed wondering if I had the energy to entertain not only five year old Summer, but also her younger brother, Hayden, and the youngest, Alyssa.
After a while longer of enjoying the warmth and comfort of my bed, I got up and snuck to the stairs. Summer had joined my dad (whom she refers to as "Pawpaw") and the only other sibling with her today, Alyssa, downstairs in the living room.
I tried to step carefully, knowing our wooden steps tend to creak some, and had almost made it when by the third to last step I heard my dad say, "Who's that?" in an excited whisper to the two girls.
I promptly jumped from my spot to the doorway and yelled, "Hey!"
This was a big deal. For the past 10 months, I lived in Orlando, Florida. I loved my time there, had a job that I enjoyed, and had made connections with coworkers whom I now consider good friends.
But also, for that entire ten months, I only saw my nieces and nephew via Facebook's video messenger when they were here with my mom and dad. One of the things I consistently told friends that I missed were "my babies."
When Summer saw me, she immediately screamed out, "Sarah!" and ran to me, throwing her arms around my legs. Alyssa, who was barely one year old when I last saw her, surprised me by doing nearly the same - she ran to me with her arms raised, demanding I pick her up. This I knew, from conversations with my parents, was a big deal. Alyssa is shy, speaks in a quiet voice no matter her temper at the time, and doesn't take well to new people. I was ecstatic that she either remembered me or, through her sister's enthusiasm, decided I was a trustworthy playmate. The increased or even overly-sensitive senses characteristic of the Autism spectrum, as mentioned above in my acute hearing, also extends to touch, but it's a bit strange. In the case of people I'm very comfortable with, it doesn't bother me at all. I love my nieces - this attention was more than welcome.
Catering to Their Whims
I spent the next hour or so being led around by the hand by either Summer or Alyssa, or being climbed on in some manner. At one point, I had both girls on my back and, until Alyssa tumbled off, carried them around as their personal aunt-sized pony. For some reason, nothing amuses those girls more than pretending to "beat up" either myself or Pawpaw. At least a few minutes were spent with Alyssa lightly pushing me, me pretending to fall over, righting myself, and then her giggling like crazy when I sat back up just for her to push me over again.
It was soon after decided by Summer that we would play in my room which, in my absence, Summer had rather taken over. A fluffy pink pillow now adorned my bed, the drawers were filled with all sorts of drawing supplies, and a toy crib stood next to my bed full of baby dolls, plastic food and cooking utensils, "doctor" tools, and stuffed animals.
Alyssa went straight for the crib, pulling out anything she found interesting. As Summer made herself busy at the desk, finding old drawings to show me and creating new ones, Alyssa pulled out the toy stethoscope and put it in her ears. "Do you want to check me?" I asked. She nodded, her white blonde hair a mess from the earlier play wrestling and climbing on Aunt Sarah. I helped her put the end of the stethoscope to my collar bone (admittedly not over my heart, but a two year old couldn't care less), and she "listened" for a moment before saying, in that soft voice she has, "Good."
Her next bit of work involved a plastic needle (really a plastic tube with a pink "needle" end with a spring inside that lets you push a small plunger to "inject" the patient with). Not understanding the purpose of the object or even really knowing what it was, Alyssa put it up to first one of her ears and then the other. "Check?" she asked, looking at me with big blue eyes. I leaned forward and let her "check" my ears as well, and again I was pronounced, "Good."
The girls continued searching my room for playthings before Alyssa announced, quite proudly, "Pee." Summer laughed and said, "No Alyssa, you pooped!" Being the aunt, I quite happily said, "Let's go tell Mama!"
Alyssa threw her arms up for me to carry her and I took her to my sister, who was chatting with our mom, and passed off the messy diaper to the person with the fortitude to deal with the situation.
Alone Time with Summer
Shortly after, my sister left with Alyssa while Summer remained to spend the night. We spent quite a while drawing and coloring, specifically working on a sign that had fallen from my door while I was gone that read, "Summer's room. Keep out!" It was agreed that we would share the room, and Summer let me add "And Sarah's" below her own name. We decorated and colored the paper, with the exuberant and demanding Summer being unhappy with its appearance until there was no white left. We even had to write our names again, according to her, which my dad laughingly pointed out later made it appear to say "Summer keep out!"
A while later, I asked Summer if she wanted to give me a "tattoo". I already have eight, which she is well aware of, while her mother has three, so she immediately agreed, either through an interest in tattoos or just the unusual opportunity to draw on someone (most likely the latter considering she's a 5 year old and it's a novelty).
What I ended up with is an abstract block of purple and black, with pink hearts stamped along my forearm and once on the palm of my hand. Mawmaw and Pawpaw, of course, proclaimed it beautiful.
After an exhausting day of creating art, "beating up" her aunt, and the general running around that a five year old does, Summer finally settled into bed with an army of stuffed animals and baby dolls surrounding her (which, of course, I had to help her assemble and carry to her bed). I laid with her for a bit, watching some cartoon that I didn't recognize, and then announced I was going to go up to my (excuse me, "our" room).
Clinging to my neck, Summer giggled and said, "No!" This kind of feeling of "being trapped" triggered some anxiety, but I was somewhat expecting it, knowing the way Summer acts. It took quite a lot of strength and perseverance, but eventually I escaped her surprisingly strong grasp and made it up to my room without having to resort to my mad/serious Aunt voice.
I love my nieces and nephews more than anything. Playing with them saps me of all energy, but I can never resist spending at least a few hours playing with them when they come over. One of the happiest things in my life, one of the few things that can make me feel good and loved even on the worst of days, is hearing one of those small voices yell, "Sarah!" and tiny arms reaching up to be held.
And, being the aunt, I'm always able to give them back if I need a rest (or in the case of an exceptionally smelly diaper).
The problem with Summer spending the night was that all of my "people" energy had been sapped the day before. Of course she wanted to play with her Aunt Sarah while she was here, but I was at my limit. She sat on my bed and refused to leave, shaking her head to watch her hair fly around and laughing, while I calmly and nicely told her I wanted to be alone. When the behavior didn't stop, I felt my temper reaching its height. "Summer," I said, my voice purposely serious and toneless, "I need you to leave my room. I'm serious." It took saying this several times before she actually left, but she spent the rest of the day unhappy with me.
I don't like playing the bad guy or making people mad at me. I don't know how to deal with it. I know that next time she comes she'll have forgotten it and will be ready to play all over again, but it still makes me feel bad that I disappointed her. I love my nieces and nephew. Sometimes I resent my inability to spend more of my time working on strengthening or creating social relationships, but I'm still glad that I know now for sure that it's due to things not entirely in my control. I know my nieces and nephew love me, and I know they still will when I tell them I "don't feel good" and need to be left alone.