Monday, April 14, 2014

Autism Siblings-You Are Awesome!!

Happy Birthday, Eric--THANK YOU!!
Today is my oldest son’s 19th birthday…so in honor of him and his other awesome autism siblings, I thought I’d write about the important role brothers and sisters play in day-to-day autism life.  Take this weekend, for example.  It was a tough one—lots of errands to take care of punctuated by multiple Code Browns, one of which occurred in my car with a pantsless Ryan.   Why did he have no pants on? Well, we were unsuccessfully testing a theory that if he didn’t have pants on, he’d use the toilet when he had to poo.  

Meghan and Eric stepped in and helped get Ryan cleaned up while I washed down my seat covers.  They watched the same few seconds of the same Peppa Pig episode with Ryan over and over and over again while I tried in vain to remove the “Eau de Poo” that always emanates from my hands.  I really need to keep gloves handy for the pooping episodes, but I digress… 
Some days I feel like I'm on "Poop Patrol"...
My kids are awesome autism siblings.  I don’t know what I would have done without Eric keeping Ryan while we went grocery shopping and errand running on Saturday.  How I would have slipped off to take a shower without Meghan occupying her brother…how would Tom and I ever have a moment to ourselves without these kids?

And I am so thankful for the way they respond to the “APBs” I put out on a regular basis when Ryan has yet again slipped away from our sight.  They drop everything and conduct an FBI-quality missing persons search.  Sometimes it’s less exciting stuff like walking Ryan’s service dog, Java, so Tom and I can watch the evening news or pushing Ryan on the swing to stimulate his vestibular system.

It’s just so many intangible things…  

It’s Meghan’s patience when her brother takes her beloved iPad so he can listen to Peppa Pig in stereo that amazes me.  Or that she managed not to have a total breakdown when Ryan walked off with her prized cell phone and lost it (and as we have since discovered, completely broken it—likely through dropping it in the toilet).
Ryan's favorite cartoon...almost as annoying as Spongebob.
It’s Eric’s willingness, even eagerness, to hang out with Ryan.  How he spends time just being a big brother to him.  How he has assured me he’ll take care of Ryan if something should happen to me and Tom.  What a great kid…

I worry sometimes that it’s not fair to them.  They’re just teenagers themselves and should be worrying about summer jobs or crushes.  They almost never complain about helping out with their brother and they clearly adore him, but research shows that siblings of autistic children do find their increased responsibility stressful, have a higher risk of internalizing problems, are more likely to be depressed and experience feelings of solitude.  Although these are also attributes of autism parents, we are the adults.

Eric with Ryan...brotherly love.
The research also shows that healthy children often carry an emotional burden and feel responsible for their sibling with special needs, along with pressure to care for and worry about their family; they feel obliged to repress their anger.  They also feel pressured to succeed so as not to place an additional burden on their parents.

That my other children might carry an added load because of Ryan’s autism saddens me.  To their credit, if they do feel this way, they never let on to us.
Meghan with her "Best Buddy" and Hawaii's Governor Abercrombie
But I think Ryan has taught them a valuable lesson, too.  They see their brother dealing with adversity every day and love him all the more for it.  They are very empathetic and patient kids who look out for the underdog.  Meghan is the President of Best Buddies at her school, an organization that fosters friendships between special needs kids and their typical peers.  She’s told me how she’s “accidentally” spilled water on a boy who teased a disabled child, and bumped purposely into a girl in the hallway who said children with autism are “retards”.  I hope one day she’ll learn a less physical way of dealing with these bullies, but I am proud of her anyway.
Here's to all those with a sibling with autism!
So, in honor of Eric, Meghan and to Katharine (even though she lives far away), I give a big “Thank you” to the brothers and sisters of our kids with autism.  Here’s to you! You keep us sane and we couldn’t do it without you!

No comments:

Post a Comment