2 minutes, 1 second read • December 14, 2023

13 Year Old Caregiver


By Sara Russell, MS, L-BCBA

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. That was the polarity I experienced throughout high school during holidays season. 

As the holiday season approaches, I often find myself reminiscing about my high school years. A period marked by the rhythms of adolescent excitement which felt more like frenetic energy to me. The hallway laughter and late night auditorium practices for holiday-timed school concert felt more like sensory overload. 

You see, that’s when Bruchy came home. I found myself walking home from school on those crisp autumn nights, leaving my coat open for that extra dose of air. Off the coattails of planned sushi-making slumber party, and feverish sincerity for choir practice, I would stay impartial. I had work-life balance to consider at that young age. I couldn’t promise my school mates if or when I would join. 

Bruchy would be coming home for the holidays and I was her unspoken caregiver. That meant showering her, dressing her, sleeping with her all with potential for disturbing head banging and biting attempts in middle of the night. 

Shrink wrap. The air around me felt rationed and the clouds above me felt like a weighted blanket. And that was this season, static on the channels, broken record rhythms from happy tune to melancholy with no intermission. 

On my drive through Mystic Connecticut, seeing the amazing foliage, I would marvel at the irony of this joyous time of year. When Bruchy came home during this time, there was a hyper whirlwind that past in a simultaneous slow-fast pace. Time moved in a way of magic, done by witches. 

They said my Choir came out wonderful, a testament to the pockets of normalcy and achievement amidst the chaos. There were pockets of time where I checked out, feeling the urgency of living with a foster sibling with severe Autism and seeing that scarring affect on my foster family at that time. 

Those experiences speak to me sometimes on my walks down Ocean Parkway with my wonderful husband and kids. Sometimes a whisper, sometimes a whimper. sometimes it doesn’t speak at all. That absence in a strange way feels like a loss because it was such a big part of my version of reality growing up. 

What’s never left is what this time of year means for families with a sibling or child with special needs. It informs my interactions with the Autism community today, shaping my empathy and perspective in profound ways.

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