Saturday, August 20, 2016

Autism can have an impact on siblings, too.

For our younger typically developing son, two worlds are about to collide soon.

At home, he is a natural leader and often takes on a role most often found in oldest siblings. He shares well with his brother, is compassionate, and a natural teacher. He was the one that was able to finally show my older son that underwear was MUCH better than a diaper, for example. Therapists, teachers, relatives, even other children tried. There is nothing like a little sibling rivalry to conquer that hurdle! At school, my youngest is friendly, talkative and sometimes too smart for his own good. He is an attention seeker, and I feel somewhat responsible for that. We have tried to balance out time between the boys, but let's get real for a second. It is all but impossible to split the time spent with each child in a fair and equitable manner when one child has special needs that requires direct and immediate assistance at all hours of the day or night. For those that are parents, you could equate this to having a newborn baby with colic and every time you turn around a new life threatening danger appears out of the blue while your other child can at least dress and feed themselves. Any parent raising a child with autism will tell you that there is NOTHING in this world more stressful than when your child is in the middle of an hour long meltdown, except maybe being shot, stabbed, or lit on fire.

He starts kinder in a few days. This year, he will be at the same school as his older brother. Last year, he was able to go to pre-k, but it was at a different campus. A few of his pre-k buddies will be moving over to his new school, too. This year, my sons will run into each other in the hallway, and of course, my youngest will probably joyfully associate himself with his very best buddy and brother. I don't know how he will handle it the first time another one of his “friends” says something negative, or he gets teased about it. Yes, it will happen eventually. Maybe not in kinder, but it will happen, rest assured. I hope and pray that when it does happen, he has the maturity, strength, and coping mechanisms in place to help guide him. 

We have always been publicly open about Autism, since the day our son was evaluated. If you were to be around our oldest, you would know that most people know that something is different within a few seconds of direct interaction, so it was never something we could be discreet about. Outside observers may or may not pick up on those telltale nuances from just a glance, since there are no physical signs of a disability.

 Our youngest was 3 weeks old and in the evaluation room during our oldest’s observation, so he has been right there the whole time. He has never really known what it is like without Autism in our household. Now, his world at home, and his world at school will be one in the same. Children and adults will naturally compare them. I know it happened many times as I grew up with my two younger brothers. 

In following autism sibling studies, and reading ways to support those siblings, one thing keeps jumping out at me. There will come a time when our youngest will be embarrassed of his brother for something he cannot prevent or help. As an adult, I have battled this very issue head-on. Examples would be when some stranger has purposely made it their mission to attempt to embarrass, mock, or chastise my son or my “parenting skills” in public. I stopped counting these incidents when they reached past a dozen. It certainly has had an impact on how much we can go out in public, and I hate that it has. After a while, I learned that there is NOTHING to be embarrassed about.  My close friends and family have seen the prayer, devotion, sheer willpower, heart, dedication, drive, and perseverance that has gotten our family to where we are. Not to mention the tens of thousands of hard earned dollars spent on therapy. You don't even have to know us all that well to figure out that our children and their well being are our main priorities in life. 

I pray that my youngest doesn't have to battle the “embarrassment factor” at least for a little while longer. Sure, being embarrassed of your sibling is natural, but not for something like a disability. This is where a huge oppotunity exists for society to improve. The adult that gives me stink eye across the room as my son flaps his arms wildly and barks like a dog will likely also be someone that tells their child or grandchild about the “weirdos”, or may even use the term “retard”.

 Most people are pretty understanding when they see a child in a wheelchair, or other physical signs of disability. That is why there has been such a push to educate and inform the general public about autism and other mental health conditions. They are the silent, hidden disorders affecting more of the population every day. Maybe the approach isn't an educational one, but one of true compassion for mankind without having the knowledge of every disorder under our belts. Maybe, we can  just try to be better, more accepting human beings. Maybe, the world would be better off if we did things like not judging others. 

 Sometimes, how a child reacts is directly related to what a parent teaches and models in their home. It isn't always the case, but if we wish for a better world, we must first look within ourselves and find the courage to change for the better.

If you are an Autism parent with more than one child, I highly encourage you to take a moment and think about the impact autism has for your entire family. Find out great ways you can help yourself your spouse, and siblings. Autism doesn't just affect the person diagnosed. I know there are several resources and guides, but here is a link on some you can get for free related specifically to siblings and parents. Also, check autism speaks for the sibling guide as well. Your entire family is worth it .