Sunday, February 18, 2007

Autism & Siblings

The New York Times Karen Olsson has an excellent piece today about the impact autism has on siblings. While I worry about my autistic son--his future, what his life will be like, will he ever get married, what if he does, who will care for him, will he need care, I worry equally as much about my non-affected son and daughter. Part of the reason I had another child and may have more is so that should my autistic son need help in adulthood, the burden won't fall to only his sister.

Without a doubt, my son's progress pushed forward with each additional family member. His brother and sister don't know that he is "autistic". They just know that he does strange things, strange ways sometimes. His sister won't brook nonsense and she has adopted that teacher sing-songy over-enthusiastic positive-reinforcement voice I use when praising him. Her teachers at school say she encourages everyone that way. If someone conquers a challenge, she offers full-throated praise. It can be disconcerting having a mini-adult in the classroom. Her teachers have had to remind her on occasion who the teacher really is. "I think she could very effectively run this classroom," I was told by them during her parent-teacher conference. I don't doubt it. She's been trying to run her brother's life almost from birth.

Both my neuro-typical children innately know he needs extra help. At 23 months, my other son will go retrieve his seven years older brother and bring him into the "group". There's not much I can do about their intervention. We have entered a phase where "fairness" matters. So my autistic son's proclivity to sit on his butt and let everyone else put away the clothes, toys, take out the trash, or do any servile labor is now greeted with cries of protest. Good. Part of the autistic problem is an inward-focus (not to be confused with narcissism, though there are times it gets tough to discern the difference). My son's siblings don't indulge him his fancies and yet they display angelic patience in the face of his labored efforts. He gets mad but he's also grateful to be a part of things.

Like the family in the story, the social differences concern me and the children. My daughter makes friends and socializes easier. My son desires friendships, but he doesn't get invited to birthday parties. He doesn't socially interact well when friends do come over. He tires easily under the stress of being social. This is all not such a big deal. In adulthood, he can be a hermit if he wants to--he won't be all that different from his daddy or mama, for that matter.

"A mother's work is worrying", I read somewhere. Well, in a family with an autistic child, everyone's work is worrying. It worries me that my young children alternately worry and resent at times the attention paid to their "special" brother. They are more sensitive, kinder, gentler and more empathetic than most other children. They also carry burdens that I wish they wouldn't have to.... Maybe this life is good training for the future. I just hope they don't seek "fixer uppers" in adulthood because that's what they are used to now.

For all the concern, a sweetness born of my autistic son pervades our life. We can get full of ourselves. We can get petty. We can complain. But then, we see a boy of courage, pushing through obstacles while never being purposefully mean-spirited. An upside to social-unawareness is being nearly incapable of willfully hurting someone emotionally. His harmless, dove-like quality sets our motives and methods in start contrast. We can all seem petty and spiteful in comparison. He's a kindness compass. We are all better for that.

1 comment:

mcewen said...

We share many of the same issues.
Best wishes