Synod employee Jacqueline Vanderholt writes about her sister Sheryil who faces deportation from Australia.
Sheryil was born 28 July 1967; she was the fourth in the family of six kids. Mum and Dad were so brave to have two more kids after Sheryil.
Sheryil was a beautiful baby who never had any symptoms of a child on the spectrum. My parents were none the wiser as in India there was no awareness about autism in the 1960s. It was only when she was four years old and showed slow language development and frequent tantrums that my parents realised that something was not quite right. Well something was right – she was placed in the right family.
For us siblings we never understood why Sheryil behaved differently. Why she hated crowds, would scream at the drop of a hat, and didn’t like any of other the siblings getting attention.
For a long time, we grappled with trying to find common ground with her. We also asked “why our family, Lord?”
Our family life revolved around Sheryil’s needs and routines. We learnt quick smart that family life will never be normal; in fact it was full of sacrifices. United we all went through the journey and united nothing could conquer our determination to make Sheryil’s world as normal as possible.
Sheryil couldn’t speak until she was five years old, her speech was limited to only a few words and today she can only communicate basic things. Sheryil doesn’t understand time, may wake up at 3am and start her day. She doesn’t know how to read or write and has no cognisant or discerning skills.
However, she can follow instructions and thrives on routine. She does not go shopping as she does not understand the concept of money. She makes no fuss with her food and wears anything without complaining. All she ever wants is the love of her family and she loves her dolls.
As Sheryil’s only sister, Dad made sure I assisted Mum in Sheryil’s personal hygiene and grooming skills. These little tasks taught me lessons for life – like being compassionate and never taking anything for granted. I have also learnt to be kind, appreciative and less judgmental, as I experienced first-hand what it is to be richly blessed compared to my own sister. My sister was amazing – she never ever indicated that I did a bad job in caring for her, even though there were days I was irritable and cranky. She always says thank you with true meaning and a beaming smile, and always, always says sorry if she has a bad tantrum. She cares immensely for the entire family and is very protective and always has our back covered.
Sheryil has done more for me and our family than we could ever hope to do for her. Understanding Sheryil took a lot of effort and self-inventory on my part and even today I make mistakes. But this process has given me patience, an organised life, a quiet dignity and commitment to responsibility that I would not have found without her.
She has taught me the true meaning of compassion, to take peace and solace in the little gifts bestowed upon us each and every day, to appreciate life and to be content with simplicities of life which you can never buy from a shop. The person I am today, I owe to Sheryil.
Having her live with my own family is not the easiest. To subject my husband Clyde and son Luke to her routine and quirks requires a good balancing act. But I am enriched with a marital relationship that has withstood tough challenges and has steeled our inner strength and responsibility. I am also blessed with a kind, compassionate and gentle son who bravely has taken over the role as a dutiful and caring nephew to his autistic aunt –what a noble man he will turn out to be.
I am grateful to be a sibling to an autistic sister. I have learnt how mindfulness builds compassion, and a great understanding that life needs to be simple. My sister has touched the lives of anyone and everyone who takes the time to get to know her. These people see past her deficiencies, her quirks and into the beautiful soul beneath. They see a smart young lady who loves her family, her dolls, her routines, and has taken us all into a journey of natural love. To the family she is undoubtedly “a garden of a single rose blossoming in infinite ways”.