Sunday, March 8, 2009

Siblings and autism

Last weekend I asked about talking to your child(ren) about their autism. Today I thought I'd post about siblings.

How have you approached opening up the discussion with siblings (if you have)? Did you bring it up or wait until they asked questions? How did they respond?

I guess if you read my other post you could guess that since we haven't had an in-depth conversation with Cuddlebug and Bearhug about their own autism, we obviously haven't had a conversation with either of them about each other's autism either.

We have had this come up with regard to Little Bitty though. Cuddlebug and Bearhug have had a few questions. They used to ask about his meltdowns and screaming fits (covering their ears, poor guys). It was tempting to give them a run-down of exactly what THEIR meltdowns used to be like (ha!). Instead, I explained that he was tired, not happy about this or that, or just having a rough day (they can relate to that). A few times they even tried to help calm him down, but like us, they learned that sometimes you just have to let him get it out of his system (that, and run for cover).

Most of their questions have been about why their baby brother doesn't talk much, doesn't respond to them, or walks away when they are talking to him. After all, they have spent years learning various "rules" of conversation, one of the important ones being to at least look in someone's general direction when they talk to you or when you want to talk to them.

For the most part, we have simply explained that Bitty is still learning how to talk and how to respond. His big brothers get just as excited as we do whenever he says a new word or achieves a new milestone :).

I remember one day in particular, Cuddlebug was getting discouraged. He came to me saying, "I'm trying to talk to 'Bitty' but he's not listening."

So I told him to keep talking to him because even though he may not look up or answer, he can still hear you, and he knows you love him. So he did :). Later that day, I heard Bearhug telling someone at church in an excited voice that Bitty was learning words, and then Cuddlebug chimed in with "yeah, he doesn’t talk much but he can still hear me when I talk to him!" It is really sweet how much they care about him and want to interact with him, he’s lucky to have big brothers like them. Of course the best way to get his attention and get him to interact is to be silly and they are great at that :).

One thing I didn't want to have happen was for them to get discouraged and stop trying to interact with him. I also want to make sure that they learn to respect his ability to make decisions and not just assume that he doesn't have an opinion just because he doesn't speak up (as the saying goes, "not being able to speak is not the same as not having anything to say.").

For example, as I've mentioned before Bitty is very picky about what he'll eat, so he often has leftovers on his plate. Bearhug and Cuddlebug are like bottomless pits when it comes to food, so they are often eager to relieve him of his leftovers. I always make them ask him first, even knowing that the odds of him actually answering are slim, because one of these days he is going to decide to express himself on the matter and I don't want them to be in the habit of just taking his food (or anything else) without asking. I also make them wait a reasonable amount of time before asking him, because he tends to eat a little bit, wander off, then come back to eat some more, etc. so I want to give him plenty of time to eat if he's going to, before they start asking for his leftovers.

They love playing the role of teacher, and the older he gets, the more they like to teach him things. They have taught him how to design train tracks (with their geo-trax) and how to play games on the computer. They follow him around telling him facts about the planets, explaining how viruses work, etc. Little Bitty doesn't always appear to be paying attention (thus the following him around), but I think he's taking it all in, in his own way.

It's really cute watching them. "Hey 'Bitty' didja know? Jutiper is the biggest planet. Didja know dat? And hey 'Bitty' didja know? Renaus (Uranus) has rings just like Saturn. And Pluto is a dwarf planet. There are other dwarf planets..." meanwhile he goes about playing with his trains.

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Rebecca on March 9, 2009 at 10:16 AM said...

One day I'm pretty sure I will have to answer Bean's questions about her brother...I just hope that even so they will alsways be close.

Anonymous said...

I can definitely relate to this post. There's really no manual for this sort of thing. You are handling it wonderfully - I'm taking notes! You are explaining things to Cuddlebug and Bearhug (about Bitty) in a way that they can understand and appreciate. It's touching to read about the way they interact with their little brother.

Trish on March 13, 2009 at 1:21 PM said...

You're a wonderful mom! And sounds like the twins are great therapists, LOL!


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I'm a mom of three boys on the autism spectrum, 11-yr-old identical twins and a 7-yr-old. My husband is a SAHD.


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