Which One?
Written by
Glen Finland
August 2011
Written by
Glen Finland
August 2011


Ida Eisenhower was the mother of seven sons.  Her boy Dwight was Number Three in the line-up.  But Ida was proud of each of her sons—the banker, the lawyer, the general, the druggist, the engineer, the journalist, and the college president.  There is a wonderful story that whenever Mrs. Eisenhower was asked, “How is your son?” she would reply without a trace of irony, “Which one?”


This story hits home with me because I am the mother of three sons and I have just finished writing a book about one of them: 23-year old David, who is tall, dark, and autistic.  David’s older brothers Max and Eric are in the book too, because the story of autism is the story of an entire family.  Yet, invariably when people look at me with concern on their faces, and ask, “How is your son?”  I know which one they mean and I bring them up to date on David.


There’s something wrong here.  Not with the question, but with my response to it.  It’s too easy to forget that siblings of autistic children are frequently overlooked in a family’s daily struggle to assemble the pieces of the autistic child’s development.  Yet, it’s just as important to realize that the missed moments of the neurotypical siblings’ childhood can never be recaptured.  I say this from the benefit of hindsight, aware that it’s too late now for our family.


David’s older brothers are grown now, out of the house, and busy with productive lives of their own.  They both say they habitually think about their little brother, all six feet of him now, and what their role will be when his dad and I are no longer there for him.  Surely that says more about their personal character development than my role as their mother.  They deserve respect for working so hard in their place in the family line-up throughout their growing-up years, because too often the spotlight was not on them on days it should have shown most brightly.


So, we must take a long look at each face in the family portrait.  And when people ask sincerely, how is your child?, we would all do well to follow Mrs. Eisenhower’s simple example, pausing a moment to ask ourselves, “Which one?”



Glen Finland, author of Next Stop-Amy Einhorn/Putnam, 2012



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