5 minute read • July 21, 2023

The Big Bang

By Sara Russell, BCBA, LBA

I was a shy 12-year-old when Bruchy was coming home to the Wolf Residence for midwinter break from Boston Higashi. It was the first time I would be meeting my new foster sister, and I was filled with eagerness to please the Wolfs, my foster parents at the time. With the idealism of youth and my default rose-colored glasses firmly in place, I poured my fervent sincerity and limited creativity into creating a scrapbook to present to her. Ignorance truly was bliss.

When Bruchy finally arrived, at a stale hour late in the evening, she took a seat at the breakfast counter. Unassumingly, I sat down next to her. Little did I know that I had never encountered a person with autism before, let alone someone with special needs. Within moments, my head was ringing. Bruchy swung her head sideways, and I heard a disjointed sound, like the crack of a baseball bat. Three slow-motion seconds later, I realized it was my own head that had made the sound. Thankfully, I was okay and didn’t suffer any serious injury. I have a strong head, so I’ve been told.

That was my introduction to this new world. Only later did I learn about the chaotic journey Bruchy had been through. Just six months prior, she had been in Stonybrook Hospital after slamming her head on the pavement while entering the ward. I had recently arrived at the Wolf house, but it was only after that incident that I noticed the gaping holes in the basement guest room and the scarred walls in their Laurel Ledge Upstate NY home.

I guess it’s my loving interpretation of the world that makes me more open to revelations and reality checks. Peel the layers of an onion, and you’ll find deeper truths. And what I discovered was profound.

Here were a couple who had never had children but decided to adopt a child 18 years later. Just two years after welcoming Bruchy into their lives, they discovered she had autism. They had become foster parents in the twilight years of their lives. This was three decades ago when psychology suggested that autism might be related to parent-child interaction. As if Mother’s guilt wasn’t enough! In that environment, the Wolfs began their attempt to invent the wheel. One we can take for granted these days. 

They set up a version of a Home-Based ABA program and even opened a school, dedicating every resource they had to help Bruchy. I wasn’t her sister, and I wasn’t their daughter. But over the next few years, I became the one who coaxed her back into the house when she ran out undressed. I learned all her quirks to de-escalate her and bring back her smile. I was there to shower her and be her roommate. In a strange way, though, I always remained an outsider.

That unique dynamic gave me an immersed and objective view of what it’s like to live with someone who has autism, especially without the resources available today. These were my formative years, and sometimes you need to experience darkness to know the light. I witnessed a world where help, direction, and go-to’s for Bruchy and the Wolf’s were scarce.

Now, whenever I have the opportunity to help individuals with autism, their parents, and their siblings, those headbangs and bite marks on my arms from Bruchy feel more like credentials, validating my presence in this space. To any parent or sibling reading this, please know that you have my whole heart. I hope to lend a helping hand in making your home life feel safe, manageable, supported, and continuously improving.

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