Being a sibling can be challenging at times, but being a sibling to an autistic child is certainly has its unique twists and turns. Autism affects the whole family, and the effect on the typical sibling can be influenced by many things that parents usually have limited or no control over.
Healthy sibling’s relationship is life-long, growing up, developing and maintaining relationship with an autistic sibling has an interesting influence on the typical brother or sister. These kids can develop deep understanding of difference, as well as an incredible patience and knowledge about disabilities. However they react to their autistic relative on a long run, they usually have more tolerance of difference.
The skills to be a loving and understanding sibling can be acquired by experiencing many obstacles that they have to overcome over years. Once the child realizes the differences between her and her brother (that is the case in my household), it is the parents responsibility to teach the typical child about autism and all its probabilities.
One of the major difficulties these kids facing is fear. They fear of the unpredictable behaviors’ of their autistic brothers/sisters, fear of un-acceptance of their friends, public humiliation, and many more.
In my household my daughter has a hard time to find friends to begin with. Taking her brother to school, going to therapies and many other health issues he has, her time and resources to make and maintain friends are limited to begin with. By God’s grace she was still able to make friends. After finding a person she can connect with does not mean that her struggles are over. It is many times a beginning of hardship and a broken heart.
I asked her to write about these experiences, so she can share with others, but the pain she experienced so many times overwhelmed her, and she opted out this time.
There were many times she came to me and told me, “you know mommy I like XYZ, but she told me I have to choose between her and Amin. She doesn’t like Amin when he cries out loud, or start laughing and no one seem to know why, she doesn’t like when he has to hurry to the bathroom, or just let out a big scream. But he is my brother, and I like her too, but I would like to have a friend. I cannot be a friend with someone who calls Amin names. I am afraid I will never have a true friend mommy.”
Amongst much heart breaks I experienced over these years, these are certainly one of the major ones I wonder many times if she really will have lasting friendship with being a sibling to an autistic child. I wondered many times the friends she has now, can maintain later when Amin is older. I wonder if she will be able to withstand the pressure from others, and stick to her values, or is this just an unreasonable expectation of me.
Also, I have to take it under consideration that many times those kids might be scared of his behavior, or their parents worried that their kids might get hurt. The fear of the unknown is always seemed very realistic. That is the reason I make sure that I explain to the parents what is going on with my son, and educate Safiyya, so she better explain her brother’s behavior to her friends.
Safiyya was asked a few times to choose between her brother and the friends she had, and she choose her brother so far. I had long conversation with her, making sure she will not develop resentment toward her brother. It is certainly a rocky road for her at our new home. Understanding and tolerance of difference is very minimal amongst the people who live nearby us. No one told her directly she needs to choose between her brother and others, but she has to endure many comments that are made directly and indirectly to her.
She comes home crying, and telling me that one of the kid who she was playing with made an ugly comment about a smaller autistic girl, saying “that stupid autistic girl she cannot even talk. I hate all autistic people.” She knew that was directed to her brother as well. When she tried to tell this particular girl how hurtful that comment can be to that little child, she turned around and told her “you are weird like your brother; you like to play with him.”
The other day she was called right out an “idiot, like your brother”, simply because she told the kids not to tease another smaller child.”
Many times when they asked her to go out to play, she was asked if her brother will be there. I give her time to be alone with her friends, and when Amin goes out he always goes out with me. He never imposed on her friends, or their play. Many times, when Safiyya see us, she runs over to talk to him or play with him a little, but even than some girls just do not want anything to do with her anymore. She struggles when they make fun of him if he repeats the other girl’s words, and they start teasing him that way, or try to make him say silly words.
So what is the solution? Certainly not staying home and give in to ignorance. Despite the much heartbreak, Safiyya is maintaining her values, love to her brother without feeling being left out.
Also I try to remind her that back in the USA many times we had many activities that we could have not have access to, if it is not for Amin’s autism. Believe me or not, we attended many events that other typical kids were jealous of.
Still, these events can not erase the mockery, resentment and name calling toward her brother. Whenever she hears the “R” word or “I” word, and sometimes there might be a slightly more educated person who uses the word “autism” comes along, she gets a knot in her stomach. That is the time when I reassure her, that when these name calling occupies the request of choosing between her brother and the so-called friend; the answer should be swift and irreversible, with speaking up on behalf of all different people.
As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “A time comes when silence is betrayal.”
So if you are a sibling or even a parent, make sure that no disrespect toward an ASD child or their sibling will be unanswered. You do not want to betray the one you love, the one you are related to, the one who’s ability are different from yours, but no less than yours.
We are all unique in our own ways, autistic, typical or any other disability. Our differences, abilities make this world unique, make this world a better place. Our friendship based on similar interest, but not identical by any means. So, when you offer a friendship to another person offer it based on what you like about the person, not what the siblings might be doing or not doing.
If you really think about it, siblings of autistic children are more mature than their age, more educated about real life, they have more acceptance, very patient, more open-minded. What better quality of a friend can one have than these siblings?