Disability and Siblings

Growing up, my brothers and I were each others' biggest allies and biggest pains in the ass. We fought, occasionally drawing blood, and we played. We spent a lot of time together, and while we weren't entwined in each other like my three kids are, we were much closer when we were younger.

We definitely had sibling rivalry and made the most of it. I can remember, though, with tremendous fondness, those times where we were close, hand-in-hand close, or middle-of-the-night talking close. My brothers and I had our issues as kids, and having our disabled grandmother living with us and requiring our care and attention definitely made for a different childhood from our peers.

In their own way, my three kids have a different childhood from many of their peers--they are all autistic. So the article in the Washington Post by Ranit Mishori about autism and siblings last week was of interest to me. If my brothers and I can be blindsided by emotions today arising from events thirty plus years ago, then the issue of sibling relationships, especially when it comes my kids and the need to respond to each of them in a way that best fits their neurology, is of keen interest to me as the mother of three.

When the girls were first born, we thought we had "dodged the bullet of autism" and worried about how they would view their brother as they grew older. In hindsight, it was a silly worry--he's their brother-he's Bobby. As the girls got older and their autism was apparent we worked at building their appreciation for differences; we had a song and dance about issues and how everyone had them and that was okay. We took them to Special Olympics events Bobby competed in, to the day center Bobby attended, and for several years Bobby had a friend from the center over on Sundays for the afternoon and supper.

The girls have been raised with an awareness that everyone has different issues and challenges and that working with each other and Bobby leads to an interdependence that increases their abilities. Bobby has them spell things for him or write the grocery list down; they go to him for help with so many things: game tips, help pouring milk, help with all the the little and big things they haven't mastered yet and he has.

They don't experience sibling rivalry in the way my brothers and I did, and I'm grateful for that. They can and do keep track of things, so we are careful to ask if they want the same number of presents or the same amount of money spent on them for events like birthdays and Christmas, but that's about the extent of that.

Call me overly optimistic, but I don't think that the experience of living with disabled siblings is a bad thing or a negative thing. I think it can be, but that parents play a huge role in whether that happens, although they can't take complete ownership of that. In the end, we are responsible for own emotions and our own baggage--we can choose to carry it around year after year or we can see the past as just that: over and done with. We can start fresh. I know we can, because when my brother had his stroke, and who he was, the life he had been living, was done, and a new life with new capabilities began, I had the option of continuing to carry that old baggage into the new. For the most part, I let it go. It cropped up at times, unexpected and shocking, and I have had to reprocess and choose to let it go again--just because it reared its head didn't mean I had to pick it up again.

Sibling relationships are incredibly complicated. They are often stormy. They are also some of the most important relationships we will ever have. Our siblings know who we were better than anybody else, and they have most of our skeletons, which means they will always have a hold on us. We learned how to be friends and how to be enemies with our siblings. We learned how to stand our ground and how to rally around and be supportive.

My children are incredible people, and we make sure they know it--know how much they are loved and valued and how important they are to us and to each other. No, life isn't easy and isn't painless and it's loud here--they argue finer points constantly-they are all opinionated people, after all, but they genuinely love each other, and most important--they like each other. How cool is that?

After all, who else is going to be that much into Yu-gi-oh, Pokemon, My Little Ponies and anime?


farmwifetwo said...

My eldest - the passing for normal one - tells us regularly how much he hates his younger bro. How he ruins his life.

I can't take him places due to HIS behaviour... not his brother's and since he lives in a "all about me" world... he doesn't believe me.

So, the younger has learned to ignore the elder and rat him out when he harrasses him.

It's on the list for the counsellor.

Anonymous said...

Things like this make me jealous of kids like yours, Kim.