By Kodey Toney
Kruz came in the other day bouncing off the walls like he normally does. He jumped off the couch a few times, pestered his brother until Konner hit him, and then came crying and running to me. He’s a typical four-year old. By that I mean neurotypical. He does things that most four-year olds do. He’s really into Ninja Turtles, collecting things, and generally getting on my nerves.
Why do I bring him up? Often parents of children on the spectrum spend so much time trying to help their child with needs that they neglect their other child/children. This is not to say that they leave them on their own, or make them fend for themselves (at least I hope not), or that they mean to, but they spend so much time trying to help one child that they don’t make time for the other.
Jen and I work really hard to keep Kruz from feeling this way, and I think most of the parents I know do the same. However, I want to share a few things that I’ve found to help parents remember the siblings of children with autism.
The strange thing is that Konner and Kruz are complementary to each other. I don’t mean that they go around telling each other how the other is a great brother; though I wish they would. They are opposites in many ways. Kruz went to the Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Panama a couple weeks ago, and as we showed up three or four kids came up to him and gave him hugs. They were excited to see him. Now, the same thing happens with Konner, and we are really fortunate for that, but Kruz was so excited and outspoken to the kids as well. Konner would usually take the hugs, say hello and then move on to the next thing that catches his attention.
We were told when Konner was younger that he would probably never tell us he loved us. This has proven to be wrong though. Konner often tells us that he loves us, and many times without us asking him. The ironic thing is that Kruz won’t tell me most of the time when I ask him. This is kind of crazy to me.
They are the yen and yang of children if you ask me.
They do fight like brothers, and while that’s annoying at times, I think it’s great that it’s “normal” activity. This may sound funny to some, but really I’m glad that they fight most of the time. I’m just afraid that Konner is going to get upset sometime and really hurt him.
There are some great advantages to having a sibling not on the spectrum. Siblings can help with social interaction. Most of the time when a child with autism won’t talk to others they will communicate with their siblings; even if it’s a strange way of communicating. They will interact with each other while playing. Kruz likes to say, “Come on Konner do this”, or “Konner say this.” This is good and bad. Good that there is social interaction, but bad that Konner gets frustrated with Kruz telling him what to do and say all the time.
Here are some tips from the Autism Society to make sure that your child feels like they are important in your family’s lives.
Things to look for:
· Over identification – They will try to make sure that they have their own identity. They won’t want to be Konner’s brother, or “the other son”.
· Embarrassment – Some might start feeling embarrassed about having a sibling that’s different. Especially if other children start to see their brother/sister as “autistic”.
· Guilt – They may feel guilty if you feel low or upset. They may see it as their fault, but you need to reassure them that it has nothing to do with them.
· Isolation and Loneliness – If you spend too much time with the other child you will make them feel all like they are all alone.
· Resentment – All of this causes resentment. They resent the fact that you don’t spend as much time with them as you do their brother/sister.
· Pressure to Achieve – They will feel that they have to do more than they do to make you happy.
We try really hard to keep Kruz feeling like he’s just as important as Konner, because he is. He just doesn’t need the extra therapies and assistance that Konner does. One thing we’ve done is to try and keep him involved in everything we do.
I think that many people try to do this, but it’s a tough balance to keep both children happy. I just want to make people aware that they need to help both children (or more if there are several).
Disclaimer: I am in no way claiming to be an expert. I’m just a father who is trying to learn as much about Autism as I can to help my child. I hope that you all can learn from me, and I from you. I ask anyone who has questions or comments about something I have written, or autism, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will try to answer questions as I have time, and if I find it interesting enough I may touch on it in my column. You can also find all columns archived at blogspot.com.