It's easy to get consumed by autism. But as much mental, emotional and physical energy you give to that one child with special needs, the reality is that even your “typically developing” children have needs as well. Our three children are two boys, ages 9 and 10, and a girl, 13. In our home, their needs range from needing praise or affirmation, extra patience in listening as they take time to express themselves, or attention at the very moment you are dealing with a meltdown or some other challenge that autism brings.
Siblings of autistic children sacrifice much. I’ve lost count on the number of times my daughter has not been able to go to a mall because I didn’t want to deal with the chaos of my youngest son, Cash’an, inevitably bulldozing past unknowing strangers in his sprint to get to an elevator just to stand inside of it; or the wrestle with him should you deny his request (I’m convinced he has an elevator radar).
With autism comes extreme rigidity. Unless, we have a babysitter (my mother), there are limits to other places they can go too, such as an amusement park, indoor entertainment facility or show. My husband and I are committed to taking Cash’an to public places so he can learn how to function appropriately in a social world. Much is dictated, however, by how crowded it will be, the anticipated noise level and how rigid his behaviors are at the moment. Unfortunately, for our other two children, Camiryn and Maurice Jr., a lot is dictated by Cash’an – but Cash’an also misses out on a lot.
Most recently, Camiryn starred in her middle-school musical production at the Theater of the Performing Arts at Hartford’s Learning Corridor. Cash’an could not go because he might be disruptive. Though he generally has a mild mannered, peaceful nature, Cash’an tends to bounce and make random, sometimes loud sounds that would be distracting to performers: not just any performers, Camiryn’s peers. The show was one of many milestones and events that Cash’an has not been able to see his sister participate in, events that she wants him to be proud of her for. She’s come to not expect it anymore, accepting of the notion that Cashan will one day understand through pictures or video. (We have taken Cash’an to a few of her concerts figuring his noises will just blend in with the choir. He did well, after bolting to stand in the elevator at least once. Go ahead – you can laugh.)
Though Camiryn loves her brother and is often defensive and protective of his challenges, she admittedly gets tired of having to explain sometimes that he has autism. It is not because she’s ashamed, but Camiryn does not want to hear anything bad said about her brother, particularly from her peers. I find that endearing.
In spite of the adjustments, disappointments and even the frustrations of having to adjust activities, the relationship between Cash’an and his siblings is evolving and growing in ways that I can really appreciate. I see each of them growing out of sheer love for Cash’an. Camiryn, who Cash’an is closest to, tries to guide him. She helps Cash’an tie his shoes, gives him his medicine, encourages him to talk when he wants something, and lets him squeeze her arm (seemingly his way of connecting with her. She is the only one he does it with). Maurice Jr., who has only known Cashan for 3-1/2 years, is still trying to get used to having a brother who is the same age, but with limited verbal communication and unpredictable behaviors. I see Maurice Jr. now making a point to greet Cash’an, whether he answers back or not, remind him to sit down when we’re driving in the car and buckle his seat belt, and help him do things. What’s nice is that Cash’an will now ask Maurice Jr. for help. Cash’an will also sit next to his brother and watch him play a video game on television, and big brother allows it – something neither did before. They both want to connect.
I can’t wait to see where the bond between our children, which I know is everlasting, will take them individually, as they each grow in their own way, and as siblings.
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