To Not Be Left Behind

Maybe you thought that click bait of a teaser title would make this article about Caleb. Being left behind academically, with peer relationships, with his own family….and while those are all certainly fears and worries I have on my mind, this article is about his sister and a mistake I have come to realize I’m making in leaving her behind.

Ari goes to a weekly gymnastics class. We don’t go to learn back flips and handstands. We’re 2. We go because it’s more of a multidisciplinary developmental program- preschool in padded rooms. She has her own delays outside of her brother’s Autism. You can read about our initial concerns with her and where those concerns ended up here. So we go to be around typically developing peers and learn and grow. In the 9 months we’ve been attending classes, this child has never held onto the bars hung independently. It’s 100% a matter of gravitational insecurity. She’ll hang from my hands, climb up my legs, and flip backwards….but will NOT hang from the bars at class. There have been weeks when the skill on the bars was fancy stuff like independently putting their knees on the bars, flipping, dropping and landing, etc. And every single time one of those skills came up to be practiced, I would say to her teacher, “we know she’s not there yet but can we please just practice hanging?”. We’d put her up there, she’d let go, and so for 9 months we held our hands over her hands so she was doing SOMETHING during bar time. And every time she’d let go the instant we did.
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Until one day when she didn’t.
Two Sundays ago it was a bar skills day. And, just like every other bar skills day for 9 months, I took her over and asked if- once again- we could just practice hanging. We put her up there, her teacher held her hands on, and then suddenly- the strangest thing happened. She held on! I let out a spastic squeal of excitement and clapped and told her what a brave girl she was about 4985739875389 times. Her teacher took her off and put her back on again to test if it was a fluke- it wasn’t! There, as the other parents probably looked up expecting to see Olympic worthy floor exercises happening on our side of the gym, my daughter hung still and simply, with the proudest grin on her face. Her teacher and I gave ourselves high 5’s because when it takes 37 weeks for a kid to learn a skill, YOU CELEBRATE IT.
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You may say to yourself, “Erin- what’s the big deal? What do you feel guilty about?”. Let me tell you.
Before that, I don’t remember the last time I celebrated her like that. Being an Autism parent means that more often than not, the little things are all we’ve got. So when Caleb does virtually ANYTHING unprompted- be it a spontaneous word, a new play skill, a social exchange- we’re so excited….and admittedly relieved…..to see progress that we party like it’s 1999. But, what I realize in hindsight is that we have a different set of expectations for Ari. Which on one note is fair, because she’s a different kid with a different set of needs. But what I think may not be fair of us; however, is that we’re expecting her at 2 years old to do all these things she doesn’t see her brother do and that she’s not getting praised for. If Caleb came up to me and said “more bubble pop” I’d order fireworks and arrange a parade through Henry County.
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If Ari came up to me and said “more bubble pop” I’d make her tell me “pop more bubbles” and raise my eyebrow for a “please” on the end. Which she would do and receive a bubble, but no parade. And while different needs and abilities may warrant different sets of expectations, I need to be better at being aware that she needs her moments in the sun as well. Like when she hung from uneven bars as if she had been born pure orangutan.

Upon my reflection, I’ve also noticed that the different set of expectations has transferred to expecting her to give up things sometimes too in the name of being the sister to a brother with Autism. Maybe Ari got up first one day and got to watch a little Sofia the First but then brother got up and the tv automatically went to PJ Masks because brother’s here and he likes what he likes. I think the universe knew that because the rigidity associated with having Autism was going to make Caleb’s flexibility intermittentĀ so I got a go-with-the-flow baby the second time around to even my playing field. I have to be sure that her willingness to flow instead of fuss, to simply find a new toy if one is taken from her, and to not bat an eye when she sees mom and dad giving brother attention (both positive and negative), doesn’t result in her getting left behind.
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So, here I am, to reflect upon my flaws and move forward with more emphasis on doing a better job at evenly distributing praise while maintaining, at least for now, a different set of expectations for both of them. To understand that growing up the sibling of someone with special needs is going to put more on her plate than other children’s and that it is my job to mold her to be the sister that defends and stands by her brother, not to resent him for anything. Because how tragic it would be if this little spitfire of a girl didn’t fully know the depth of my love for her because I was busy giving sensory input to her brother and forgot to give her a love squeeze afterwards also? So, my little one, we’ll do better. We’ll do better celebrating everything there is to celebrate about you and making sure you know how incredibly proud of you we are. Because what will you two have if not each other?
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Love and Ari,
Erin