Parenting is hard - period.
Parenting an autistic child? Extremely hard. Especially if you have other children who are not autistic.
Just take a minute to think about the level of emotions. Think how stressful it is for these siblings.
If you're the sibling of someone with autism, you know how it is. You experience the same things your parents experience. Every day is different and crazy and you never know what to expect. It's stressful, beautiful and chaotic all.at.the.same.time.
My daughter gets emotional at times. She knows that we love her just as much as her brother but she still spirals emotionally when she compares our interactions with her and our interactions with her brother. The fact is, autism parents spend a lot more time with their autistic child, and that's really not fair.
The feelings toward their sibling varies at any given time of the day swinging from love to dislike depending on what is happening.
For instance, they could be feeling like this:
"Why do you spend more time with him? Why do you pay more attention to him? He never gets in trouble! Do you like him more than me? Why does he get to use the iPad more than I do? It's not fair, I want to be autistic too! If I was Autistic you'd love me more..."
Why are those children staring at him? Are they laughing at him? They're staring! Leave my brother alone! He's autistic...he's the best brother one could ever have!
and then this:
Please no singing out loud now...
Leave me alone...
I just want some space...
It’s stressful, overwhelming and a lot to process, especially if they’re younger.
Recently, my daughter came to me crying about it all. She shared her heart and asked "What about me mommy?" She asked me to look at it from her point of view. To consider when was the last time I celebrated her in the way I celebrated the "little" things her brother does. She said, "Mommy, he gets a 'party' when he eats a banana, I eat my FRUITS everyday and no party. I'm not asking for a party mommy, just equality."
My heart broke, but I sucked it up...this was not the time for guilt! I put my autism mommy panties on, validated her feelings and had a frank discussion on how we were going to fix this.
We agreed that
- for the most part autism siblings adjust well, and are more compassionate, independent and easy going;
- over time, if left unchecked, Autism siblings could feel jealous, resentful, discouraged or angry;
- most Autism siblings feel protective of their sibling but embarrassed at the same time, and then feel guilty for feeling that. I know...complex right?
- ALL children need to feel loved and need their parents attention;
- Autism parents or any other special needs parents need to be extra careful to balance things out.
So we came up with a List to help/remind us to balance things out and decided to share it with you. Use it or share it with someone you think would benefit from it.
1. If you haven't already done so, it may be a good time to explain autism to your typically developing child - this will help them to understand and build compassion.
2. Make time for them. Special times that have nothing to do with your child who has autism. You could set aside regular daily times for them, like reading a story at bed time or 10 minutes each day when you tell them a few positive things you noticed they did that day. You could also take them out without their sibling, go to the movies or for frozen yogurt. Whatever they like, just make it special!
3. Encourage siblings to be closer and play more together. Look for ways that they can play, and have fun together. My son loves music, dancing and singing. So we encouraged them to play the Just Dance WII game together and we've noticed how much they've bonded over it.
4.Try to keep things balanced and fair. This is hard but it's important for your children to feel they're being treated fairly and equally. Make family rules that are fair for all. If one child is allowed to do something more than the other, that's not fair. Same rules should apply, if possible.
5. Validate and Manage Negative Feelings. We don't want our children feeling sad, anxious, resentful or hurt. Be aware of their feelings and validate them. Non-judgmental Communication is important so share your feelings too and let them know it's normal to feel the way they do.
6. Encourage friendships outside the family. This will help your children feel they’re more than just an autism sibling.
This is not an exhaustive list. I’m sure as time passes and situations change we’ll think of more things to add or change a few things but for now it’s a start to a happier and more balanced way of living for Autism siblings.