This whole “Take That, Autism!” site was started for my son Caleb. You can read about that here. Ari is his little sister, born barely 18 months after he was. You can read her backstory here. I found out she was on her way when Caleb was only 9 months old and Autism wasn’t on the radar. And while I was overwhelmed at having two little ones so close together, I ultimately decided that it would be amazing for them to be so close in age because they would be best friends and partners in crime. I am an only child. I think, particularly now as an adult, that that would be an amazing relationship to have. So ultimately, I was excited for them.
Things have played out a little differently but we are getting there. When Ari came home from the hospital, Caleb was young but developmentally, I would have still expected a minimal interest and intrigue in her. Caleb had about zero environmental awareness that she was even here. That’s a devastating reality to the fantasy you have in your head of what it will be like when your children meet each other. Her 3rd birthday is coming up soon and this past summer was the first time he’s had an interest in her. Which has also been heartbreaking because she has so desperately wanted him to be her friend. Her little voice exclaims, “Caleb!” and she does what he does and follows him where he goes because she just desperately wants love back from him. And I believe, in fact, that he does love her. But I had a conversation with co-workers this evening about how Autism expresses love in non-traditional ways. Caleb will take all the toys but give her back the frogs because he knows those are her favorite. He will squeeze her ears when she does something she likes because that’s simply what he’s decided means “I love you.” And while I have to redirect behavior so that he is sharing and not stealing and being gentle and not hurting her, I understand what his actions mean when his words fail him.
I could see, however, that from the outside looking in, it may appear as though we are running a fun house. We aren’t. Everything has a rhyme and a reason and a purpose. Someone said once, “she has it rough with him.” And it made me sad and mad and reflective all at the same time.
It’s a perpetual concern of mine that Ari not get left behind. But that is different than being hardshipped by being his brother. I would be naive, I suppose, to assume that it wouldn’t be easier for her to not have to deal with his communication barrier, compulsions, sensory seeking, <insert all other challenges one faces with Autism here>, but…….I’m not comfortable viewing the situation as a negative one for her.
What I hope though, is that being Caleb’s brother will make her a strong, compassionate, individual. I hope that she learns to accept people without judging them, truly understand’s a person’s worth, figures out how to think outside the box, and ultimately gives zero consideration to anything negative someone thinks about her. If she is successful in achieving those things, she will have done so by learning them from her big brother. Because if there’s anyone who’s out there living his best life without regard to what anyone thinks about it, it’s Caleb. And maybe that’s because his social skills are developing in an atypical way, but what a relief I sometimes feel it would be to live my life like that too.
I hope also, that when she is older, (if her father and I do our jobs correctly), that no matter what level of support Caleb ends up needing- that she always feels the need to help and protect him. I don’t want her to grow up and live her own life and have the attitude of “he’s not my problem anymore.” One does not have to harbor resentment in order to feel a responsibility to someone. That is what I want for her. I want her to worry about him, go out of her way for him, and defend him if he ever needs it. Because he is her family.
In a world where she gets to choose to have anything she wants, I hope the first thing she always chooses to have, is his back.
Love and Autism,