What do you tell the brother of a child who is autistic? This is something we have been giving some thought to lately. I have a book entitled ‘My Brother Is Different’ and it is excellent. As the title suggests, it is aimed at siblings and describes (quite accurately in our case) the sort of behaviours and characteristics typical of ASD. It is written as a series of statements and explanations such as, ‘At mealtimes my brother can’t sit still. This is because he needs lots of space and he gets upset if situations (like mealtimes) get too difficult for him.’ Towards the end it says, ‘My brother is different… my brother is autistic’. It’s a really useful book. I found out about it because I was thinking that someone was bound to have written a book like it, and they had.
And yet I do not think I will be showing it to B’s brother. Not yet anyway. As I said, we have been giving this quite a lot of consideration lately and it has got me thinking about a few things. At the moment, B’s brother (I call him A on this blog) seems to accept his brother without question. I don’t think he considers him ‘different’ or has difficulty in understanding why he behaves in certain ways. He just accepts it as what he is like. A is three years older and has therefore grown up with a baby in the house. I expect that he considers his brother to be still growing up and not yet at the stage where they do the same things or act the same way. He’s like he is because he’s not grown up yet. I’ve never actually asked A about this and I’m not sure he would be able to articulate how he feels anyway, but I think that is what he thinks. A doesn’t really ask many questions about his brother, or show annoyance or an inability to understand. He did ask once, “When will B be able to talk properly”, but that is it. He rarely says, “it’s not fair” and is generally very happy to go along with whatever happens. As such, I am inclined to not introduce the book and to not introduce the terms ‘autistic’ or ‘aspergers’ into his life.
Of course, A knows no different about his brother. I wonder how long can it be before he starts comparing him to other children of the same age and realising there are differences? This could quickly become apparent when, from September, they are in the same school together. That is when the questions might start and that is when I might turn to the book as a part of how we deal with the situation. I also wonder about the effect that B has had on his life in general. There are many concessions and compromises that A has to make. But then, he’s the big brother, so to a certain extent that was always going to be the case. There are lots of tantrums to put up with too and they bother him sometimes, in the same way they bother all of us. I wonder sometimes if he gets a fair deal and how it really affects him. The one thing that I can say with confidence is that he gets no shortage of love from his family and we do what we can to ensure he gets the things he most wants and needs (not always the same thing!).
I become aware of the effect on his life sometimes from what other people tell me. My mother has noticed how we sometimes stop him from doing the things he wants to do because of the effect it might have on his brother (for example, the DVD player is a bad idea. He now has one in his bedroom). She has also pointed out how he explains his brother’s behaviour (“he doesn’t understand that”) and I think she feels it is a lot for him to cope with. More significantly, A’s behaviour at school has taken a slight dip. His teacher says he has been uncharacteristically silly at times and this week he burst into tears for no obvious reason. The teacher said, “I know things have been difficult at home”, which is a loaded comment if I ever heard one. Apart from being annoyed that she would say this, I think she is wrong to suggest that somehow things have suddenly changed to the point where it is affecting his general happiness and well being. It worries me that she might be right though.
I want to end this entry by writing about some positive aspects of the boys’ lives together. It was always the intention for A to have a sibling to grow up with. Although it’s taken a while to get there, they now have a fantastic relationship and are the best of friends. I sometimes think A understands B better than any of us. They don’t need much verbal communication to have a great time together. Watching them race up and down the living room, play on the trampoline or splash each other in the bath is great (actually the bath thing drives us mad, but you get the idea). There is a lot of laughter and great love between them. I think they adore each other. The other day they just stood in the middle of the living room and hugged each other for ages. I think that, whatever the future holds, they will have a very special relationship.
So for now, we’ll leave things as they are. There will be a time and a place to start talking about B’s condition but in the meantime, I think we’ll just let them enjoy being kids.