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Monday, November 28, 2011

Again With The Siblings.

Some of you may recall a blog post I wrote some time back titled Siblings as Saviours At that time we were still coming to grips with Harris's diagnosis and hadn't yet introduced our daughter to the concept of autism. Given she had only recently turned six there was no hurry. But of course there comes a time when kids become aware enough of differences to be informed about the diagnosis of their kin.

Over the preceding 8 months or so Ali has been coming in and out of the therapy centre Harri attends. Most days I am dropping off or picking up Harri with her in tow, and in the process she has been in the company of many children, some of whom are severely impacted by the disabling aspects of autism. Probably most disturbing from her perspective as a young child are the kids who make loud noises spontaneously, and hit and bite themselves.

If one of these children come into the centre while Ali is there I never seek to remove her from the room, or react in any way. I want to convey to her via my own actions that she is safe. That while the behaviours of these kids may be difficult to observe there is no need for her to feel personally threatened. And later in the car we are able to discuss why the child she saw might have acted the way they did. We consider how frustrated she might feel if she couldn't express her wants and needs. I explain the behaviours she observed are not indicative of intelligence and attempt to convey the complexities of the autism spectrum to her as best I can, and it was at this during these conversations I was also able to reveal Harri's diagnosis.

Given her own sensory issues I think she has the capacity to comprehend some of the overwhelming aspects of ASD quite well for her age. She has shown a remarkable maturity in how she's adjusted to the news. In fact she has become quite interested in discussing autism in recent times, and also friendly with a girl aged the same as she, who is almost non verbal and has very limited alternative means of communication and attends the centre with Harri. Ali and this girl have enjoyed trampoline jumping sessions together, and once to the wonder and pride of all us who saw it, she came into a room where Ali was and called out "girl" at the sight of her and they hugged.

Anyway I think in the discussions about raising children with autism, NT siblings are sometimes overlooked (of course there are plenty of families where all the kids in the family are on the spectrum, which is a very different conversation) , yet they are profoundly impacted in many cases by the consequences of sharing their formative years with a brother or sister who demands unrelenting time and concern. I know in our own family there have been instances when my husband and I realised Ali has been neglected. We've felt so burnt out and preoccupied by Harri's needs and demands that she often gets the short straw in terms of attention. It's something we work hard to compensate for, but don't always get right. We're doing our best under trying conditions. I can only hope there won't be any long term negative consequences for her because of this, and that one day she will understand the lopsided nature of the attention she received wasn't due to lack of love or concern for her on my part.

Despite the uneven distribution of time and focus she rarely shows signs of resentment towards Harri. In fact I stand by the claim I made previously that she is his most effective form of therapy. Harri is learning to share, take turns, wait to speak, squabble, dob, play, fight back and show love thanks to their wonderful relationship. I am very grateful to Ali for this. More than I could convey or she will comprehend at this age.  They are a gift to each other, and to me. Two fascinatingly quirky kids I wouldn't change for world.


  1. Hey Me, this article brought a tear to my eye. What a wonderful daughter you have, she is amazing.

    I've got to say my daughter is wonderful for her older brouther too. It's hard I know to make sure she gets that quality time with you. I find I am often praising my daughter and thanking her for helping her brother. She has taught him so much without even realising.

    It's great that you have been able to discuss Harri's diagnosis with her and by being able to see the other kids and interact so well with them makes her a very special young girl, who will grow up to be an amazing lady.


  2. Thanks for your comment Penny. Our NT kids are pretty special in their own right.