I love to watch kids open Christmas presents. There is nothing better than a child’s huge grin of anticipation when she grabs a present and tears into it, unless it is her squeal of delight at what she finds inside. Over the last several years, I’d found it sad that my younger daughter never reacted like this. So often with autism, social reciprocation is lost—that give and take that involves things like anticipation and shared excitement. While my eldest tore into her presents with wild abandon, my younger one usually gathered the shredded paper into a nest and ran her fingers through the pieces. It seemed as if she had no idea what was going on.

So, last year we were very surprised when she grabbed a present and tore into the wrapping with a huge grin. I realized anew how much autism can rob a relationship. Because she often doesn’t express shared excitement, I withdraw. This is not a conscious act, either. It’s sort of like playing tug-of-war with a brick wall. After a while, it becomes really difficult. However, the memory of her unwrapping that toy is a reminder to me—I need to keep working to unwrap what is inside of her. I need to stay in the fight.

The surprise on the inside is worth it.