Siblings of Someone on the Autism Spectrum

After my son’s diagnosis of autism, I became concerned for my other kids.   How would his diagnosis impact their lives?

I heard stories of siblings becoming resentful because everything revolved around the disability.  I didn’t want that for my kids, but the reality was that our world was profoundly impacted by my son’s disability.  There were the hours spent going to and from therapy and waiting in the waiting room.  There were the places we avoided going because he couldn’t handle the noise and other stimulation. WP_20130620_001 (This was particularly true for Chuck e Cheese….even I get sensory overloaded there!)  There were the embarrassing temper tantrums that happened in public with everyone staring at us.  There were the songs he would sing at the top of his lungs when we went out.  There were the odd behaviors that always drew attention to our already peculiar family.  (Having quadruplets can cause a commotion.  More on that another time.)  Life was filled with compromise, frustration, and embarrassment.

So how do my kids feel now about having a sibling with autism?  I asked them and this is what they had to say.

It’s embarrassing.  My son doesn’t always remember that singing as loudly as you can isn’t always welcome. (Think walking the aisles of Target or through the middle of the mall.)  Or that public is not where you ask private questions so loudly that others can hear.  And no one wants to be associated with the teenager who is playing with the stuffed animals and speaking in unusual voices.

It’s frustrating.  My son does not like change and compromising is difficult for him.  So even choosing a restaurant to go to can be challenging unless you get him on board from the beginning.  If it’s not where he wants to go, he can be very unpleasant.  He also doesn’t share well, especially if it’s something on which he is very focused.  Which is very frustrating when it involves the computer and the other kids need it for homework.  He gives it up, but he is not enjoyable to be around for awhile.

It’s brought out a protective instinct.  A couple of my kids are protective by nature, but having a sibling who is seen as different has brought out that characteristic in powerful ways.  Not only are they protective of their brother, but they are very sensitive to others who may be left out or feel unwelcome.  They become angry and quick to action when they see someone who is being mistreated.

It’s normal.  His differences are just who he is so they become normal.  They only become aware of the difference when they look at other families or when we are out in public and he does something unusual.  They are used to their brother’s peculiar behaviors so they think of him as just another sibling.

I know it’s been hard for my kids.  There have been many tears of frustration shed as they’ve had to learn to adjust and acceptWP_20140715_019 their brother and all that encompasses.  But they also love him and embrace him for who he is.  He’s brought a lot of joy to all of our lives.  He has a surprising sense of humor which keeps us laughing.  He can be very sweet and compassionate.  He has a desire to please and make others happy.  He’s taught all of us to be more patient and tolerant of others.  He’s taught us to be gracious and forgiving.  He’s taught us to celebrate accomplishments large and small.

And I’ve learned that a diagnosis of autism does not have to breed resentment.  Talking to my kids and letting them express their true, raw feelings has allowed them to process the journey.    As a result, they love their brother for who he is and accept the compromises that need to be made.  It makes a momma proud!



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