Having an Autistic Brother

Discuss issues related to children who have special needs or learning difficulties

Having an Autistic Brother

Postby Phil4v8 » Sun Feb 24, 2013 11:35 pm

[Editor's Note: Post chosen for Portal Publication.]

I have two children. Ethel, now 5, has so much to say. Calder, 8, is autistic.

Ethel was born before Calder was diagnosed as moderately autistic. This is a very good thing because autism is believed to be partly hereditary. Like many other parents, we would have had second thoughts about begetting another child if we had known the first one is autistic. So, Ethel is a present. A present for me because she enables me to experience "normal" parenthood. A present for Calder because she is his only friend, a friend who cares enough to pray spontaneously for him.

It is not easy to be Calder's sister. Although she is younger, she is expected to give in to her brother because he is easily upset and difficult to pacify when upset. Being Calder's sister means having to watch Calder's mood before expecting an outing, having to give up many outings, having to hurry home when Calder gets agitated. Ethel is so used to these that we could actually ask her, "Do you think we can go out today?" and she would look at Calder with his flustered face and desperate chantings and pronounce, "No, I don't think so."

I give talks on my parenting experience. Once, a member of the audience asked, "Is the sister deprived because she has a brother with autism?" In a way, yes. Ethel is deprived of her rights to be childish. Because her parents have their hands full dealing with the brother's meltdowns, tantrums on her parts are never well-tolerated. She knows she cannot hoard her parents' attention because Calder gets upset when ignored. And when Calder is moody, the atmosphere is tense, and parents speak sternly not only to Calder but to her too. She has to learn not to take these personally. She has to learn to grow up quickly. As a result, she is a precocious 5-year-old. One of her preschool teachers actually told me, "In all my years of teaching, I have never come across a student as sensible as Ethel."

Frankly, I think when a family has a child with special needs, the person who gains the most is the sibling. Caring for a special-needs person builds a compassionate nature. If I am an employer, I would advertise for siblings of people with special needs because this is where you find responsible and kind staff.

Of course, I have also heard of the opposite effect: resentment and bitterness and defiance against what the sibling sees as unfair parenting. In my case, my children are fortunate because I work part-time. And I have arranged their schooling such that I get to spend time with them individually. Ethel goes to morning school while Calder's school starts in the afternoon. This grants me many opportunities to show I love them.

I believe when children feel loved, they would grow up well, whether or not they have special needs.

Phil4v8
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Re: Having an Autistic Brother

Postby slmkhoo » Mon Feb 25, 2013 9:21 am

Phil4v8 wrote:I give talks on my parenting experience. Once, a member of the audience asked, "Is the sister deprived because she has a brother with autism?" In a way, yes. Ethel is deprived of her rights to be childish. Because her parents have their hands full dealing with the brother's meltdowns, tantrums on her parts are never well-tolerated. She knows she cannot hoard her parents' attention because Calder gets upset when ignored. And when Calder is moody, the atmosphere is tense, and parents speak sternly not only to Calder but to her too. She has to learn not to take these personally. She has to learn to grow up quickly. As a result, she is a precocious 5-year-old. One of her preschool teachers actually told me, "In all my years of teaching, I have never come across a student as sensible as Ethel."

Frankly, I think when a family has a child with special needs, the person who gains the most is the sibling. Caring for a special-needs person builds a compassionate nature. If I am an employer, I would advertise for siblings of people with special needs because this is where you find responsible and kind staff.

Of course, I have also heard of the opposite effect: resentment and bitterness and defiance against what the sibling sees as unfair parenting. In my case, my children are fortunate because I work part-time. And I have arranged their schooling such that I get to spend time with them individually. Ethel goes to morning school while Calder's school starts in the afternoon. This grants me many opportunities to show I love them.

I believe when children feel loved, they would grow up well, whether or not they have special needs.

I have a 16yo girl with Asperger's and another girl, NT, 2 years younger. She has had a similar growing-up experience as your daughter, but probably not as marked as my older girl's ASD traits are not as marked as your sons. And yes, I really appreciate how sensible and grown-up she has been all these years, much in advance of what I would expect of a child her age. Since the age of about 10yo or so, she has functioned more as the 'older sister' than the younger, helping her older sister to plan, make sense of the world and cope in social situations. And this empathy seems to stretch to others around her too. I have been a SAHM all these years and so have been able to spend a lot of time with them together and individually, and we have tried to teach the older one consideration for the younger one too, although she is naturally more self-centred.

slmkhoo
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Re: Having an Autistic Brother

Postby Phil4v8 » Mon Feb 25, 2013 11:29 pm

Yes, when I see them playing together, I am so glad they have each other.

Phil4v8
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Re: Having an Autistic Brother

Postby crabbygal » Wed Feb 27, 2013 10:23 pm

Hi,

Thanks for the post. After reading your post, really touched me and can totally relate as I have the same exact situation as you. My son is turning 8 years old this year, is also moderately autistic and my daughter is turning 5 years old this year who is normal. Just like your kids. :)

Unlike you, I noticed my son to be different as early as when he is 18 months old. Did a google search of his symptoms and was thrown back with the word Autism. Thereafter, have been struggling and went through various therapies along with him. I've made the brave decision selfishly to try for another child even knowing that my son is autistic (was even told that is quite moderately severe when he is 2.5 years old). Somehow I was optimistic although back in my mind I have a fear of alot of "what ifs" during pregnancy.... told myself and my hubby that if our next baby is also to be on the spectrum, we will be well prepared and able to handle both our children. Most important is my hubby is supportive and positive as well.

Anyway, fast forward, through the years, indeed my daughter have to go through alot of my son's therapies, meltdowns, anxieties, weird antics, sudden blowouts, lack of interactions, etc... she has become very sensible and understanding. She still have some fears when her big brother have huge meltdowns (thank god these meltdowns have cut down alot) and would run to hide. I have been told by friends and relatives that my daughter is very matured and sensible. She is also very sensitive and can sense when my son has anxieties but can be also cheeky and make fun of his brother's rigidity and at times may 'bully' him... but of course I guess it's normal and many times when caught, I have to explain to her on what is wrong and right.. Since she was born, she was plunged and exposed to therapies and even joins in the sessions to teach them to learn how to play together as it doesnt come naturally for my son.

Now they get along so well, with typical sibling bickering and rivalry and her existence helped my son be more sociable, also improved his language and comprehension. He loves his sister alot and will ask for her if she is not around. Through home therapy, I've learnt how to manage both of them and also try to be sensitive to my daughter's needs, often being reminded by my son's therapist to expose the term autism to my daughter since toddler. Sometimes I can see the confusion in her and only today she started asking me happily whether when she grows up as big as her big brother, can she go Pathlight school. I had to explain to her about her brother's autism and Pathlight is only for autistic kids and although she still have trouble understanding fully, I am sure, she will eventually and hope that with balanced love and proper nurturing, she will fully understand her autistic brother.

For now, she tells me she loves him from time to time and wants to play with him all the time. In fact she worships him in certain way because he is so good in playing and building with Lego and because of that she strives to build and play Lego just like her big brother and it pushes her to learn how to take reference and enhance her creativity.

Never regretted trying for another baby although I've learnt about my firstborn autism. :)

crabbygal
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Re: Having an Autistic Brother

Postby Phil4v8 » Thu Feb 28, 2013 1:35 am

Hi Crabbygal,
Thank you for sharing your life with me. I don't know about the boys, but perhaps my girl can befriend your girl. Find me at www.come-into-my-world.com, ok?

Phil4v8
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Re: Having an Autistic Brother

Postby Lavina » Thu Feb 28, 2013 11:16 am

Hi mummies,
When we knew my son was autistic, Dh & I decided that we would not want another child. Primarily it is the hereditary issue. And even if the second child is NT, I am not confident that I have the parenting skills to forge strong kinship between them, the way all of you did.
Bravo!

Lavina
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Re: Having an Autistic Brother

Postby crabbygal » Thu Feb 28, 2013 2:08 pm

Phil4v8 wrote:Hi Crabbygal,
Thank you for sharing your life with me. I don't know about the boys, but perhaps my girl can befriend your girl. Find me at http://www.come-into-my-world.com, ok?


Hey there, no wonder I find your child's name so familiar. I bought and read your book. :) Great work and thanks for the stories.

Sure, our gals can have a playdate. :)

crabbygal
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Re: Having an Autistic Brother

Postby luvmum » Thu Feb 28, 2013 7:13 pm

It is seriously not a cushy journey having a special needs child when no one ard you seem to understand at all. I hv a special needs child too but he is my second child. My first one is normal. We actually plan for 3 but like lavina, we really get so drained and heartbroken after coming into terms with our boy's needs that we cannot go thr all these once again. Therapies, hospital visits, begging schools to accept him n having to endure some teachers' ugly comments n frenz ostracising him r seriously heart wrenching for any parents to bear.

luvmum
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Re: Having an Autistic Brother

Postby Phil4v8 » Fri Mar 01, 2013 12:12 am

Yes, when you have a child with special needs, sadness hovers around, almost like a friend. Just today, I received an sms from a fellow parent crying "help!" because she couldn't find a childcare for her autistic boy. If you know of any compassionate childcare with vacancy, do let me know. This family stays at Sengkang area.

Phil4v8
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Re: Having an Autistic Brother

Postby Phil4v8 » Fri Mar 01, 2013 12:14 am

By the way, for those of you who understand Mandarin, you can see Calder and his sister on Catch-up TV. Just search "I see you episode 7".

Phil4v8
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