I can’t imagine how difficult it is having a sibling on the spectrum. I only know how it feels to parent one, but I have to believe that Hayden’s love for his brother makes him a better person.
For every child living with autism, there is a strong chance they have a sibling in their family living through the experience along with them.
As parents, we not only need to provide for our child with autism, but we also need to give our typical children every opportunity to live their own lives like everyone else. I remember talking with another parent a few years back and she said, “I feel like I live in two worlds, one world that revolves around autism and one world where there is no autism.” I think she meant that we as parents who care for typical children and for special needs children are constantly shifting gears. We will spend hours of our day in IEP meetings, therapy, and support groups and then spend the other half of our day as a parent with a typical child as we sit through cross country practice, coordinate sleep overs, and drop off kiddos for play dates or school dances. We lead double lives and leading double lives can get lonely. This is also true for our typical children who have brothers and sisters with autism. They are typical, but also visit the world of autism every day of their lives.
Since my typical son, Hayden, lives with Broden each day, autism is always in the back of his mind. I’ve learned that having Broden as his brother has made him more insightful into people’s behavior and more compassionate.
I remember on the first week of school, Hayden told me that he had a boy in one of his classes that had autism. He talked about the behavior he observed and told me that after playing certain scenarios over and over again in his head, he was convinced his classmate had autism. He found out he was correct after asking another classmate. When he was asked how he found out so quickly, Hayden responded by telling them about his brother. “My brother has autism so I know what to look for. It’s good that he’s in a class with typical kids. He must be pretty high functioning.” Obviously Hayden was not a kid just living in one world, but living in two.
Hayden opened up to me about feeling guilt the day he found out that his classmate had autism. “Mom, I should have been more patient. I didn’t know he had autism in the beginning and I was irritated at his behavior. I feel guilty,” he said. I assured him that he needed to forgive himself for being annoyed and that now that he knows about his classmate’s autism, he needed to be a friend to him like he wished Broden had friends in school. A week later, Hayden jumped in the car after class to tell me that he had protected his classmate. Hayden witnessed him being bullied and Hayden responded by telling the bully to back off or he would have to deal with him. I looked back at him after he told his story and I could sense his feeling of satisfaction or pride. He knew in his heart he protected a kid who needed protecting. He turned a wrong into a right.
Since that day, I have not heard of his classmate being bullied again. I can’t imagine how difficult it is having a sibling on the spectrum. I only know how it feels to parent one, but I have to believe that Hayden’s love for his brother makes him a better person. I have to believe that Hayden is stronger and fights harder for what he believes in. He will be the child that speaks out when he sees injustice and he will be the one who stops to help a child who has fallen.
Hayden has felt alone for quite some time, having a sibling with autism, until recently. He has met two girls who also have a brother with autism in our neighborhood and I have overheard them talking about things they have to live through due to autism in their lives.
Hayden said on the way to school one day, “My brother wouldn’t go to bed last night. He kept screaming and my parents kept having to go in the room and shut the light off.” His friend turned around and said, “Oh, I know exactly how that feels. My brother does that too.” I looked back at Hayden to see his response. He looked at her and shook his head with a half smile. Hayden finally felt like he was understood. He met another kid who lived his life like him; not in one world, but one who lives in two.