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On Having a Brother with Autism

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There are times I look at our kids as a whole group and marvel at the ways God has blessed us with this brood.  I think every parent does this from time to time.  I hope every parent does this from time to time.

As a spectrum family, we have variables others know nothing about and can’t begin to comprehend even when we try to explain them.  Some things just have to be experienced to be understood.  I think this is true for every family, spectrum or not, special needs or not.  At the core of our family, is a deep-rooted love for the ones with whom we are blessed to share our lives.

I often wonder if our neuro-typical (non-autistic) kids feel slighted at all simply because there are times we need to put our focus on Ben and help him understand whatever it is that we are facing.  It could be as simple as a change in plans because of bad weather or as complex as difficult homework.  There are times that Ben has to come first.

We are in a busy season of our lives due to our big three being involved in FFA, 4-H, our church youth group, our church kids’ club, and the school production of Beauty & The Beast.  These are exciting times and ones I’m so glad our kids have the opportunity to enjoy, but they do make for some busy weeks.  Despite the busyness and the miles, these are the moments I feel like our kids get to be kids, and for that I am ever so thankful.  Not everything in their lives needs to be about autism.  Yes, our lives are enriched by autism, but it is not our entire life.  We tend to focus on the person our son is, rather than his condition.

Still, I sometimes wonder how the other kids process this reality in their lives.  I asked a simple question this past weekend, four different times, once for each of our “typicals”.

So, what’s it like to have a brother with autism?

  • It’s difficult in a fun sort of way.  You never know what’s coming around the next corner, but it’s always an adventure.
  • There’s more responsibility.  You watch out for him more than others because you don’t want him getting hurt or anyone else getting hurt because he gets mad.  Sometimes he squeezes or hits or pushes to get rid of his stress.  (This is not to hurt anyone or even because he’s necessarily angry or mad, but because he can’t always process everything going on around him.  Sometimes, there’s just too much – too much noise, too much light, too many people, too much chaos – it’s too much for his sensory system to process.  It’s similar to a fight or flight situation.  There’s too much going on around me that my brain, my systems, can’t process and make sense of.  I can’t escape so I have to fight it off.  This is something we continue to work on and thankfully an area in which we have seen great progress.)
  • Well, it’s fun to have Ben for a brother, but I wish a doctor could find some medicine to get rid of his autism so he wouldn’t need so much help.  But, it’s okay that he needs help because you (mom and dad) can help him and sometimes I can help him, too.
  • Having a brother with autism is hard.  He doesn’t understand everything, so you have to explain it in the most basic form.  It’s hard when his schedule gets messed up; he doesn’t understand.  But, it’s not all just bad.  When he’s having a good day, like usual, he can play a game with you and have conversations.  He’s not strange or weird, he’s unique.  He is autism: always unique, totally interesting, sometimes mysterious.

I love that our kids can recognize that it’s okay to be different.  They don’t pass any judgments on him and they are quick to take a stand for him. Their love for and investments into their brother also affect those around them.  I have been blessed to witness friends of theirs doing the same.  Yes, we have an amazing little man who puts us on the spectrum, but he has some pretty amazing siblings with whom he gets to ride out this adventure!

*****

(Answers to the question, “So, what’s it like to have a brother with autism?” were gathered from our neuro-typical kids ages 4, 11, 11, and 15, and shared with their permission, in no particular order.)

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3 Comments

  1. Your kids sound AMAZING. I love this post and their honesty. I already feel like my youngest is slightest. Like, I don’t have as much energy to put towards him. And also he doesn’t need it. Cooper takes so much out of us. And I love that you said, ‘everything doesn’t have to be about autism.’ So true. Hugs!

    • It is a definite balancing act, but you will find a way to do it every day, just as you did yesterday and the day before and the day before. I’ve also had to come to grips with the fact that there are times I need a break. It doesn’t make me a bad person or even a bad mom, it makes me human. Our boys don’t need super-hero moms, they need moms who love them and will give them their very best. Sometimes taking a break is necessary in order to be able to do that. 🙂

    • And yes, they are pretty amazing. 🙂 I *may* be a bit biased, but I do think they are. I sometimes feel like they’ve had to grow up a little faster than their peers, but it’s one of those things that God put in our lives. Are we going to fight it or embrace it? Not everyone will make the same choice, but this is our reality.

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