Decades later, the memory is still so clear to me . . .

Mazal tov, Chani! It’s a girl! ”

I was eating lunch at school when the cook called me out to the kitchen for a phone call. I vividly recall the rotary phone as she handed me the receiver, with a smile on her face. It was my father. He sounded so happy as he told Another girl? We already had four girls!me that Mommy had given birth to a girl. Another girl? We already had four girls. But I said mazal tov regardless because, thank G‑d, the baby was healthy. And I went back to my lunch.

The first two years of her life, my sister Sara’le was just a princess. With four older sisters who doted on her, she displayed superior intelligence, and we all thought that she was the cutest baby ever.

When she was two, Sara’le started to regress. Suddenly, she was not making eye contact. She had been almost completely toilet-trained, and now she had to wear diapers all the time. It was very unsettling.

In those days, little was known about autism, except for the fact that it was like a huge rug, and many symptoms were swept right under it.

Our beautiful princess was changing in front of us, and there was nothing we could do about it.

When I would take Sara’le to shul, she suddenly would say strange things. Where was the little princess that my friends would flock towards, excitedly waiting to hear her sing?

My friends slowly stopped coming to see what she was wearing, or what cute antic she came up with. They said things along the lines of “You are making her do that,” “You want attention, and this is not the way to get it,” “There is nothing wrong with your sister; she doesn’t have a mongoloid face.”

The pain and embarrassment were awful. Self-doubt set in. Was I really looking for attention so badly? I would come home and cry into my pillow. I didn’t want to share the pain with anyone else. What did they understand?

One morning, I woke up and realized I could not live my life worrying about what others thought. Sara’le was a beautiful little girl. She had a great sense of humor. She liked to laugh and giggle. When you acted silly, she got it.

I am sure the I could not live my life worrying about what others thoughtsun shone brighter that day than it had over the past few months. I turned my face upward and drank in the warmth it provided. I knew, suddenly, that it was going to be okay. My sister would live her life to the absolute best of her ability, and I would learn to live with her and the issues that went along with being Sara’le’s sister.

And as long as I remembered that G‑d presented me with my unique challenges, I would be able to figure out a way to deal with them.