Today is Autism Tuesday, and I think it’s time we talk about a topic that although not directly related to children with autism, it is still something truly important for a family of autism to know about. So, let’s dive right in.
Having a child, or in my case, children, with autism is emotionally draining. It is also time consuming, because much of your time does revolve around them. Whether it be therapy sessions, sensory meltdowns, constant worrying and so on, your mind is always on them. For families like mine, that also have non-autistic children, well, the honest truth is that it’s hard to mentally be there for them sometimes. Now I know, that it sounds horrible, and it is, but it’s also the reality of this life. They are mentally easier children, and are able to do so much by themselves that, as parents, we sometimes forget that they still need us just as much as the “autistic” kids do. I am so proud of how independent our four year old little girl is. She may be four, but she knows more about acceptance and judgment than most kids her age, because she does have 2 siblings with special needs. She may not know the terminology, but she does understand that her big brother, and her little sister both have brains that just think differently then hers or mine. She knows that some things come harder to them then it does to her, and that’s ok.
For the most part she is really good about being lugged to therapy sessions, or dealing with aggressive meltdowns. She’s even a huge help when it comes to dealing with the new baby. That being said, there are periods where she has just had it. She’s had it with the constant attention being on her siblings, so she starts to act out. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t firmer with her then I am with the others, but then I realize something that just breaks my heart: she didn’t ask for this. She didn’t ask to be born into a family with autistic kids. She didn’t ask to be brought to their therapy sessions, or to always have to worry about them. What she did ask for was a mom and dad who give her equal attention. She asked for princess dress up days, and mommy-and-me dates. She asked for typical activities that a four year old girl ask for, because she is a typical four year old girl. That is when I realize that, yes, I am the mom of 2 autistic children, but I am also the mom a beautiful typical four year old girl, and that four year old girl deserves mommy time too.
If you are reading this, and you don’t have special needs children, I hope you don’t pass judgment, although I’m sure it’s hard not to. I can assure you, that I love all four of my children equally, and I am so so very proud of all of them. It’s just the reality of what our lives are like. I do have to remind myself that just because she takes it like a champ most days, she needs mommy time too. If you are reading this and you are an autism family, I hope you can learn from this and know that sometimes we need to put the autism down and be all in for our other kids. In the end, we are ALL a family, and autism is part of our family, but it is not the only thing in our family.
One of the first things you need to do, as soon as your child starts “seeking” that attention, is to sit down with them and talk to them about their siblings. They need to understand that it is not that you WANT to spend more time with them, because certain things are more difficult for them. Talk to them about ways they can help their siblings too. When they start complaining how it’s not fair, just sympathize, because, truth be told, it’s not fair to them, but they are apart of this family and family sticks together no matter what. Once you have had a conversation with them, it’s time to show them that you do really want to spend time with them. Sit with them and create a calendar, and specifically section off specific days and time that is devoted to them. That way they have something to look forward to.
I think one of the most important things to remember when spending time with your non-autistic kids, is to let them experience activities that typical children do. The truth is there are certain things that some children with autism just can’t do, or it’s too difficult to do, so when you have a child who can do those things, it can be emotional. You owe it to them to not hold them back, and encourage them to meet their full potential. They shouldn’t have to be stuck at home, or stuck doing what they other kids want to do, simply because it’s easier. For us, this activity is gymnastics and cheerleading. She was literally built to do this, and it is something she looks forward to every week. It’s also something that my oldest ASD child has difficulties with, but that’s ok. Is it hard for me when he has a meltdown because he wants to do it too? Absolutely, but I owe it to her to let her have that time all to herself. Another great thing to do is to set aside on special day, once a month, completely devoted to them. We love to have mommy and me dates. We will both get dolled up, go grab a bite to eat, maybe a movie, and a fun activity like get our nails done. It’s just a special gesture to show her how much I love her, and how proud I am to be her mom.
Its not the easiest thing to be a parent of children with autism, why would I assum that being the sibling of kids with autism would be any easier? There will be times when we are going to have to focus our attention of the kids with autism. There will be things that, unfortunately, will come first. It’s just the way that it is, and I hope that one day she, as well as the baby, will understand. That is why it is so important to talk to them, be open about everything, and make the time to be with just them. I’ll say this though, these kids couldn’t have asked for a better and more understanding sister. She is always looking out for them, and her heart is the best thing about her.