Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sibling stuff and autism

Things have been a little rough these last few months on the sibling front. Cuddlebug and Bearhug are quick to get frustrated with Little Bitty, and for his part, Bitty has a tendency to "egg on" their frustration at times.

Some of their frustration is legitimate. They don't understand why he often doesn't seem to listen to any of us and just goes about doing whatever he wants. He often has little regard for consequences as he doesn't always make the connection to his behavior. They don't understand why he ignores them when they try to teach him things, or why he asks them the same questions over and over (and over).

Some of it is just typical sibling stuff - like most little brothers he wants to be like them and do the things that they do. At the same time, many of his interests are "immature" from their perspective and they love giving him a hard time about liking Mickey Mouse or Olivia (not that he cares).

Although his pretend play skills were a long time in coming, he has developed quite a knack for incorporating pretend into his daily life, even if most of it is scripted. For example, when he needs something he'll say, "Eveebuddy say, 'Oh TOOO-DLES!' Oh TOOO-DLES! We nee' some MOUSKETOOLS!!" Just like on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (one of his latest favorites).

Meanwhile Bearhug, and especially Cuddlebug, are not particularly fond of pretending in general, with few exceptions. One of which is their dinosaur pillow-pets, they have created an entire mythology / history around where their dinosaurs come from and actually the two pillow pets often represent a whole collection of dinosaurs (but of course we can only ever see one of them at a time) :). They are constantly harping on Bitty that Mickey Mouse isn't real, there's no such thing as Mouseketools, etc.

If Bitty happens to say something that isn't 100% technically accurate, they will correct him to no end, which he readily ignores and that only makes them more ornery. They get upset with me if I don't continually correct him. I try to remind them that he is only 6... that he likes to pretend and that he doesn't understand as much as they do.

And let's face it, the frustration isn't all undeserved. Bitty tends to get physical with them (he can be a bit of a bully, and has no regard for the fact that they're twice his size), and he screeches loudly anytime they do anything he doesn't like (or if he even THINKS they're going to do something he doesn't like). Sometimes when they are actually trying to help him with something he just screams at them.

We've talked about the fact that he has autism, just like we've talked with them about their autism. One time when I reminded them of that and said something along the lines of "kind of like both of you" and they got indignant with me, "NOT like US!!" I tried to explain that it affects everyone a little differently and that he is more affected by it than they are but they were skeptical.

I didn't bring it up again, mostly I just remind them when they complain about how he's not doing this or that, that we're working on it and that it takes time. They love to point out that they were doing XYZ (fill in the blank) when they were his age, at which point I acknowledge that yes, they were further along at his age in some ways, but that everyone learns in their own time.

Fast forward to more recently... and I overheard this conversation in the back of the car:

Cuddlebug: "'Bitty' has WAAAYYY more autism than us!"
Bearhug: "yeah, but everyone has a little bit of autism."
Cuddlebug: "yeah, we told 'P' that she has autism too because everyone has a little bit of autism but she didn't believe us."

LOL. I asked where they heard that and they said Ms. D. told them. I told them she's right, everyone does have "a little bit of autism" in some ways, but that not everyone knows that, so people may not always believe them if they try to tell them that. I didn't discourage them from talking about it with other kids though, I want them to feel comfortable and open about doing that so they can advocate for themselves as they get older.

Anyway, I've been struggling with how to handle this. I want Cuddlebug and Bearhug to feel comfortable expressing their frustration rather than keeping it all inside. I don't discourage them from expressing their frustration (to a point) because I worry that may only lead to resentment. At the same time it hurts to see them so hard on him and him so indifferent. I want them to all be close, but I know I can't force it and need to let them develop their relationship in their own way.

Dh had another talk with them the other day and it seems to have maybe clicked this time. Leave it to him to find a way to explain the same thing I've been trying to tell them in a way that apparently makes more sense :). He told them that because of Bitty's developmental delays (pretty sure he didn't use that exact term) that Bitty's behavior and understanding of a lot of things is more like a 4-yr-old. So he's "like a 4-yr-old in a 6-yr-old body." THAT made sense to them, and they repeated it back to me when I got home (dh had already given me a heads up about their conversation).

While I'm not sure I love the idea of them going around telling people their little brother is a 4-yr-old in a 6-yr-old body, and I'm not sure how Bitty feels about that (or if he understands it, because I'm sure he's heard it now that his brothers have repeated it several times) the concept does seem to be helping in terms of his brothers being more patient and understanding toward him.

We'll see how it goes.

I'd love to hear any ideas you may have. How have you explained autism to your children from a sibling perspective, especially if you have kids who fall into different "areas" of the spectrum?


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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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