One day last week, I saw this on facebook:
Most things like this strike a chord with me and I immediately feel as if someone has been inside my heart and really “gets” it. While I do feel there is a lot of truth to the message, I take issue with the comment on siblings: If you have a sibling with Autism, you are somewhat aware.
In our experience, this could not be farther from the truth. Ben is blessed with four amazing siblings, three older, one younger. Rob, Tom, Jac, and Ali are the biggest cheerleaders there ever could be and honestly, the four biggest encouragers to us. They are his circle of support. They love him unconditionally. They go out of their way to try to help him. They leave their friends to see if they can help us or just to say, “Hi, Ben!” and steal a quick squeeze. They don’t grimace or groan or hide when they see him coming; they smile, approach with open arms, and love on him without hesitation, regardless of who they are around or what they are doing. And they are teaching their peers to love and accept as well.
I’ve seen so many changes for all of us in the last year. One that warms my heart as much as any is that peers of our middle children who used to hesitantly stand back and watch as Ben approached Tom and Jac, not sure what he would say or do, perhaps bracing for a meltdown (it’s okay, it happens), now smile at the sight of him and actually approach him to say hello and seek a high-five. I’ve seen their world change, awareness unfold, understanding grow, and acceptance begin to bloom. And my heart is so full, sometimes it can’t hold all the love and it spills out my eyes in the form of tears.
As April winds down and Autism Awareness Month wraps up, the messages and reminders we see in our daily lives will fade away as other causes come to the forefront of attention. And that is okay. We all need to be aware and accepting of everyone, regardless of their situation. But for our family, it’s not a campaign month, it’s really just a way of life. For us, every month is Autism Awareness Month, and those siblings of Ben’s, they couldn’t be more aware. They know the excitement that comes with hearing his voice, and realizing what he’s just said isn’t scripted from a movie or story, but is actually an original thought. They know the frustration of jumbled syllables we just can’t comprehend, even though this is the 1000th time he’s repeated them for us. They know the exhilaration of running to the tree and back, and laughing so hard they fall over, and pure joy of feeling him fall into them, completely at peace, absorbed in the moment of that laughter. They know the exhaustion of a meltdown caused by frustration because his body simply cannot process the world around him even though it comes so easily to everyone else. They know the peace that only the Father can give as we tuck him in at night, snuggle in tight to say our prayers, and he says, “I love you.” And they know what it is to love completely, to be aware of differences, to understand that he is perfectly created, and to accept him for who he is. Yes, they are very much aware of autism and the profound impact it has had on our family and yet, they can’t imagine life any other way.