The Sibling Dynamic

I wrote this article for the Autism Support of West Shore newsletter this past Spring. I thought I would share it with you. We’ve made some progress since I wrote this. My next blog will be all about what we’ve done to help their relationship since this time.

Over spring break, we went to the zoo. My kids like the zoo, but my 8 year old autistic daughter, Marissa absolutely loves the zoo! We had such a wonderful time. They were both doing so well together which isn’t always the case. We were having such a great day, until we got to the bears. When we got to the bears there was a nice window with rocks you could climb on to get a closer look. Our 6 year old son got the spot closest to the bear. He was thoroughly enjoying watching the bear clean himself in the little pond until Marissa decided she wanted the spot closest to the bear. Marissa still hasn’t mastered using her words in a nice way to ask for a turn, so instead says, “I hate my brother, we need to get rid of him.” You could physically see Jacob’s face drop. He hopped down and walked to me with tears in the corner of his eyes, saying, “I really wish she would stop saying that.” Then my heart sank and I felt so bad for him.

This is one of many times she has said this and we are working on these things in therapy, but this time she said it in front of about 5-6 other kids and adults. It was heartbreaking for him. He has done an amazing job at ignoring some of these things, but at some point a 6 year old is going to break. Sometimes I’m on the verge of breaking! Parenting children is hard. Parenting a child with autism is harder. Parenting a child with autism and their neurotypical siblings is downright tough.

A couple months ago, the therapist asked Jacob, “What does Marissa like to do?” He listed off quite a few things he knew that Marissa liked. Then she asked Marissa the same question. It was like crickets. Nothing! Not even one thing. Don’t get me wrong, I expected this, but it doesn’t make it easier to hear. You want the best for all your kids and you want them to feel loved and special. I know we do a good job of that with our daughter. We spend a lot of time with her, working with her on life skills and just getting through the day. What about our son? How do we show our son that he is a valuable part of our family and make sure he gets some of the attention that normally goes to his sister. Here are a few things that we have implemented or we hope to implement over the next few weeks.

Extra Praise and Encouragement
Over the past month we’ve tried to be intentional with lots of praise and encouragement to him. Especially now with the verbal aggression that his sister adopted, we know how important pouring positive words into him is. He picked up his room, LOTS of praise. He was kind to Marissa, LOTS of praise. He listened right away, LOTS of praise. Every little thing gets praise.

Time Alone with Mom/Dad
Last week, we brought Marissa to Grandma and Grandpa’s house while we had a special birthday celebration for Jacob with his friends. That night filled him up. We were focused only on him and his special night. We try to spend a lot of one-on-one time with him when Marissa is home, but I’ll be honest, it doesn’t always work. After this night we have realized how beneficial this kind of thing is and we will be adding in more “dates” with just Jacob.

Open Up The Communication
How do you open up the communication with a 6 year old? I’m telling you, we’ve had our best talks in his bed with his door closed, just me and him. I let him know he is doing such a great job being a brother. I try to bring up as many specific examples that I can think of where he responded well to Marissa or was a great friend to her. Then, I stop talking and just listen. It is in those times he tells us how frustrated he is with something and we can talk through it openly and we help him develop the best plan for responding in the future. He can ask questions and we refuse to get angry with anything he brings up or asks.

Give Him/Her a Special Mission
Just yesterday, Marissa broke a part of Jacob’s game because she was mad. She absolutely did it on purpose and I knew Jacob was going to take that very hard (fortunately he didn’t see it happen). I spent some time talking to him alone and showed him what she did. I coached him on how to respond when he saw her and told him he could have a special treat if he did it well. He was on a mission and intentionally brought up the game to see what Marissa would say. He handled it better than most at his age. I was so proud of him, and I could tell he was proud of himself. It built his confidence!

Sometimes as parents, I feel like we can beat ourselves up. We feel like we are missing the mark when it comes to our kids. You see what other mom’s or dad’s are doing on social media and think they have it all together. Guess what… they don’t either! We all struggle! Your struggle is what makes you, you. Everyone has a different journey and the way you do it is right! The way I do it is right! Keep learning and growing into the best parent you can be, but don’t apologize for being the person you are. You are the best person to raise your children into amazing adults. Keep up the great work!

Marissa's Mom

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