Going the Additional Mile – AGE OF AUTISM
By Cathy Jameson
For some time, Ronan’s younger brother hath surpassed him in every phase of growth and development. Long ago, there was a time when my sons were neck-in-neck both physically and cognitively. Those years were wonderful years. Then, the boys shared the same clothing, had similar tastes in food, shared playtime activities and also enjoyed the same television shows. That’s not the way how life is now and hasn’t been for many years.
As my boys aged, the gap in their growth and development widened.
Cognitively, Ronan’s stuck in a much younger phase. Physically, he’s a good 10 inches shorter than his brother Willem. While not as tall as Willem, his sisters tower, or will soon tower, over Ronan. Each of them has responded in their own unique way to the differences in growth and also to the very different life experiences they have had because of their brother. Most of the experiences have been positive, for which we are all grateful. Some, like for any family – typical or one that has a special needs family member, can also be tough experiences. While I mostly paint a pretty picture of us, and especially of the siblings, I readily admit that not every day has been an easy one. If asked, my children would admit that, too.
life is hard
Moments are frustrating.
And Ronan really can be a rotten pickle (an affection family term for someone who can annoy the heck out of a growing impatient sibling who’s trying very hard to not lose their patience)!
Sibling rivalry doesn’t go away when autism enters the family; it just takes on a different form. For Ronan to knowingly push our buttons because he can, takes quite the skill. I don’t condone it, but secretly I love it. Where he can’t verbalize typical sibling antics, he sure can do little things that get them a little peeved. When I see that, I’m quick to correct it even though I’m curious about what Ronan will think of to do next. People should be polite to others, including Ronan, and not annoy someone just because they’re capable of doing so.
Lately, due to our family’s schedule, I’ve had to ask the siblings to pitch in a little more than they’re used it. I’m sure it’s getting a little annoying for them each time I ask them. It isn’t terribly hard work to watch their brother because he’s been so easy going, but it is work and it does cut into their free time. Knowing that, I repay the kids in kindness and in other gifts like getting their favorite take out. So far, the kids haven’t complained about the extra tasks I’ve given them. Recently, they even asked for more responsibilities. I never want to overload them with the physical care their brother requires. Nor do I want them to ever worry about the medical attention he requires, like handling a seizure, but they willingly offered to give more time to him.
What kid does that?!
With our busy schedule, I’ve been doing more on-line grocery shopping. I pick it up curbside and boom, grocery shopping is done. I could’ve done that again last week but wanted to go into the store. Some things, like the organic fruit and meats I want, I just need to pick out myself. So last Wednesday, I asked Ronan’s younger brother meet me at the grocery store after school. I was going to have him sit in my car with Ronan while I ran into the store for a few things. Since we had two cars, though, Willem said, “Why don’t I just take him home?” I could only think of the negative things in reply, the what ifs…
What if Ronan tried to unbuckle himself? Which has happened.
What if Ronan tried to open the car door? Which has happened.
What if Ronan had a seizure in the car? Which has happened – and did happen on the very road the boys would be driving to get home!
He hasn’t been driving for too long yet, so I hadn’t wanted to ask my younger son to drive Ronan yet. Willem wanted to drive Ronan because he could. It was a big ask. But when the little brother wants to do something for the big brother, I know I sometimes need to set my wants and my emotions aside.
For other families, this might not have been a big deal. For us, it was a major milestone when the little brother drove the big brother for the first time that afternoon! I could be totally woe is me, why couldn’t it have been Ronan driving Willem. Years ago I might have been that person. That day, I was amazed! I was grateful! And I was humbled. I was floored, too, when I’d asked Willem if he was sure he wanted to take on that responsibility. He said, ‘Of course, Mom. I want to do this.’
His response, besides being so confident, was immediate. At the moment that he said it, I knew I had to put my worry aside and trust his confidence.
Some day in the future, I may not have the immediate help from my typical son or the help that his sisters so quickly offer. That’s why I will happily soak up all the positivity these kids share with Ronan now. I will happily share what does work for us as well. Some days truly are terrible. Some days need a redo as soon as we wake up. Other days, like that recent sunny afternoon when Ronan did not unbuckle himself, when he did not try to open the car door, and when he did not have a grand mal seizure in the car while driving home with his little brother are days that I just absolutely love. Those are the best days, and when they happen, I cannot wait to share the excitement with others.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.