This is part 3 of a series describing my experience of growing up with a sister who has autism. If you missed them, you can go back and read parts 1 and 2.
If you’ve followed me in the past year or so, you know that I am a BIG My Hero Academia fan. When I thought about what to title this post, I kept coming back to the word “quirk.” In MHA, quirks are superpowers, so when a person’s “quirk” manifests, it could be something like super strength or the ability to manipulate water or fire.
All of us have our own quirks – not superpowers, but idiosyncrasies. Often when we think of the term “quirks,” it brings with it a connotation of something weird or undesirable. I like the reframe that MHA provides, to look at quirks as a unique part of your personality, and something that could even be considered a superpower.
Rachel had quite a few quirks – some that have stayed consistent through most of her life, and others that seemed to have come and gone.
From a very young age I can remember my mom cutting out the tags in all of her shirts and pants. Following this same vein, if a piece of clothing had a string loose, that was something that would immediately need to be taken care of. Rule #23: tags and strings on clothes must be removed at all costs. If we didn’t get to it in time, Rachel would have pulled it (and possibly unraveled much of the item) on her own. Rachel was not the most careful or gentle in her actions, so her pulling a tag or string off could result in a giant hole in the garment in question.
In general, Rachel had her own ideas about what she deemed out of place in the world. And if something didn’t look right to her, by golly she was going to fix it.
One time when I was a freshman in high school, I had gotten my hair cut in shorter layers (above the shoulders) and parts of my hair flipped out here and there. I was in the bathroom (Rachel and I shared a bathroom) finishing up my hair and makeup, and I noticed that Rachel had walked in with a pair of scissors and was coming straight towards me. RULE #52: IF SOMETHING NEEDS TO BE FIXED, FIX IT. I got the scissors out of her hands in time, but I’m 99% sure that she was going to “fix” the parts of my hair that she felt flipped out to the sides a little too much.
Restaurants were an interesting experience with my sister. Occasionally in the middle of the table, there would be a small candle that had been lit to provide atmosphere and decor. Rule #87: candles must be immediately blown out. Most of the time, this was not a huge deal, but some restaurants had the lights lowered (mood lighting) and that candlelight was kind of essential to being able to see the menu (and your own food!)
When dining with my sister, you had to stay on your toes. Rule #35: no silverware allowed on the table before the food arrives. If there was any silverware that had been laid out upon arrival, Rachel would grab it and throw it across the table, whether you were sitting across from her or not.
Rule #66: no lemons, ever. Did your drink happen to come with a lemon wedge in it? Maybe you ordered an iced tea and a lemon slice is innocently floating near the top of your drink. One time I had ordered a large iced tea, and the lemon wedge was underneath the ice, way down near the bottom of the glass. Rachel quickly (she had to do everything quickly because she knew time was of the essence) reached across the table, plunged her arm into my drink to grab the lemon at the bottom, pulled it out and shoved the entire thing in her mouth. She then proceeded, with great effort, to eat the lemon wedge – rind, seeds and all.
Rule #67: No orange traffic cones, either. This was a quirk that appeared all of a sudden, so the first time it happened we had no way to prepare for it. My family had gone out somewhere, most likely a restaurant, and had just parked the car. As we were getting out and about to head inside, Rachel takes off. She’s running like the wind (and is surprisingly fast!) Rachel running was never a good thing, it meant she knew she was going to do something she shouldn’t, and had to do it quickly before anyone could stop her. It was also scary because none of us ever knew what she was planning to do, or how far she was going to go. Rachel ended up stopping next to an orange traffic cone, picked it up and hurled it into the air. It fell back down on the ground a few feet away, and she calmly walked back and headed inside the restaurant. Eventually orange cones didn’t affect her one way or the other anymore, but for a period of 3-5 years, we were always cognizant of any bright and orange objects, and avoided parking near them.
Rule #1: Routines should be followed and never changed. For many people with autism, routines and repetitive behaviors are extremely important. They are so important in fact, that “any deviation from these particulars can result in enormous anxiety” for people with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). This manifested itself in many different ways with Rachel.
We had a swimming pool growing up, and Rachel had these plastic figurines (I think they were Happy Meal toys) that she played with while we swam. Do you remember when the movie Casper with Christina Ricci came out? We had figurines of Casper and all three of his uncles. There were about 10 or so different random characters in total. Rachel would line all the characters up by the edge of the pool in the same order every time, then drop them one by one into the pool (in that same order.) The toys, being plastic, eventually got so damaged from the water and the sun that they had to be thrown away (literally pieces of the figurines were dissolving and falling off).
Another example of Rachel’s routine in action would happen when we went to Disneyland. (You’ll notice a lot of pictures of us at Disneyland…) Rachel had a small book of pictures that my Mom had put together for her. Each picture represented a different ride or restaurant at Disneyland. As soon as we arrived inside the park, Rachel would get the book and point to our first ride: the Matterhorn. After we got off, she’d get the book and point to the next ride: Small World. (And then we’d go to the third ride, and the fourth ride, etc.) This went on for many years, and my mom would refer to it as “the Rachel tour.”
I’m sure I could go on and on about the different ways that Rachel’s quirks manifested, but I think I’ll stop here. (Gotta save some stuff for part 4!)
Thanks for reading.