Not long ago, Cody, who is on the autism spectrum, asked my name.
“Kim,” I told him as he looked directly at me, his face beaming.
With his sky-blue eyes clearly fixed on me, he asked me again. “What’s your name?” I happily repeated my response. He seemed happy to have received it again.
Cody’s engaging me represented a transformation, a grace-filled connection. A connection to a little boy who not that long before ran through the halls of the church immersed in his own private place. Now he is a teenager who seeks out others. Wherever he is, it’s hard to miss that head of red hair.
For the past ten years or so, I have watched both Cody and his older sister Summer grow up. When they both were younger they seemed inseparable, especially those times Cody climbed into Summer’s lap during children’s time. She accompanied him to the altar and often held him while the minister spoke to the gathered group. He nestled into her lap, until his attention and curiosity often caught on something unrelated to the remarks.
The relationship of Summer and Cody inspired the Wendy and Michael characters I developed for my contemporary Peter Pan retelling, The Island of Lost Children. Wendy, while inspired by Summer, is not exactly like Summer. She is responsible for not only her brother Michael but also a rather challenging middle brother John, or JJ. Wendy’s busy and economically stressed parents have little time anymore for Michael, so Wendy steps in to do the work to engage him and improve his skills, even when she struggles with feeling disconnected from the family:
Wendy Darling did not belong with anyone. Not with her parents, who argued all the time. Not with her brother John, known in the family as JJ, who crashed and thrashed like a thunderstorm. And not with her youngest brother, Michael, who one minute fixated on the crackle of a candy wrapper against his ear and the next minute tore through whatever room tried to hold him. There were times when he slipped into Wendy’s lap and they came close to belonging with each other, but those times didn’t happen often enough.
The “crackle of a candy wrapper against his ear” came from my spouse, Ron, who worked with special needs children prior to getting a masters in special education.
It takes a village to make a character, as well as a child. I’m grateful for all those who contributed to Wendy and Michael’s development, especially a brother and sister I know. Those sibling relationships are so valuable and too infrequently explored. I continue to be inspired. Summer demonstrates on a regular basis how a caring older sister can be. As he grows more independent, Cody shows everyone how far he has come.
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