A young schoolgirl touched the heart of her teacher when she wrote an essay wishing her brother could be “healed of autism”.
“Every person needs a Rachel in their lives,” wrote Co Meath teacher Kathryn Lenaghan, after she read the impromptu essay by nine-year-old Rachel Cahill.
Although written in February, her mother Caroline Cahill asked for the letter to be highlighted for World Autism Awareness Day, which is tomorrow, April 2nd.
The third class student began the essay after she had finished her day’s work at St Paul’s NS in Navan. Titled “I wish, I wish, I wish,” she begins: “Since my little brother Matthew was two, I have always had the same wish. When Matthew was two, he was diagnosed with autism. Autism has no cure. Some children with autism can talk, understand and communicate, but Matthew can’t.
“When you have autism, your brain is different. Matthew would hear things more loudly than us, he feels things more differently and sees things we don’t. So ever since Matthew was diagnosed with autism, my wish was for Matthew’s autism to be healed.”
Rachel’s story – which then describes Matthew’s life – was so remarkable that it prompted teacher Kathryn Lenaghan to write a letter to her parents.
It said: “Rachel is an extraordinary child with a lovely caring nature. We are all so lucky to have her adding a positive attitude and influence to our lives each day.
“Rachel always shows great empathy to those around her. Most children of Rachel’s age would be wishing to go to Disneyland or for a new toy. This story just showed us what we already know. Rachel is a unique, selfless child who is always eager to please and make things better for those around her.
“Every person needs a Rachel in their lives. Keep doing what you’re doing Rachel and you will touch the lives of many people. We are very proud of you here.”
Rachel's mother admits she cried when she saw the story and cried even more at the teacher's response. "The story is so simple, but it shows Rachel really understands what's going on in her brother's world. She's so kind and will always ask for Matthew to be cured. She asks for it in her prayers at night and every Christmas when she's writing her letter to Santa, she says 'mam, I know what I'd really like but I know I can't have it, which is for Matthew to be better'."
“Matthew has severe autism. He doesn’t talk at all and has very limited understanding. For me, the communication is the hardest part and causes the most frustration for both him and me. He self-harms by biting the backs of his hands until they’re bleeding, pinching his arms and legs until they’re bruised and slapping himself hard in the face. It’s absolutely heart-breaking to watch. He is currently in a pre-school autism unit at St Stephen’s NS in Johnstown, Navan and is doing really well.
“Rachel’s story just blew us away. We always knew she was a special, kind little girl and we are so proud of her. When you’ve a child with special needs, you tend to be more focussed on them than the other siblings and you take for granted just how good the others are.”