Friday, February 21, 2014

When a sibling notices differences

This is something that has been on my mind a lot lately. J-babe, who is 10, is on the autism spectrum, and displays behaviors (mostly at home only) that are not normal, but allow her to release her pent-up frustration and sensory overload, especially from a long day at school. Big B, who is 7, is not only noticing the differences, but now asking why she does certain things. And even asking about other kids or adults he sees that are different. He's connecting the dots now. I knew he would soon enough, but I never felt like it was important to outright explain anything to him. I never thought I had to sit him down and say, "Let me tell you about your sister." I wanted him to figure it out on his own, mostly because I didn't want him to view his older sister any differently than any other kid.

But now that he is asking more questions, I find myself not always prepared to answer them. For example, he noticed that a child with Down Syndrome looked different and couldn't talk normally. So he asked why this child could not talk like the other kids. I told him, in the simplest terms possible, about DNA, and chromosomes, and how kids with Down Syndrome have an extra chromosome, and how this affects their ability to talk and learn, and that they were born this way. He must have understood this, and then said something too smart for a 7-year-old: "Oh, so is that what J-babe has, too?"

Well, I had to think about how to respond to that one. "No, she doesn't have Down Syndrome. She has...other things that make her do what she does." But really, how do you explain autistic traits or sensory processing to a 7-year-old? He wants to understand his older sister, his sister that he loves to play with, most of the time, until she starts tantruming, or perseverating on a question with him, or pestering and poking him for no reason at all. "She's just different than you, that's all. Her body doesn't work the same as yours. So she has to do things to make her body feel better." It was a good enough answer for now.

But what breaks my heart is hearing HIM ask her the questions, which is a new thing. Just yesterday, after a recent playdate with friends, he asked her, "J-babe, how come you don't talk to your friends when they're here?" J-babe was quick to retort, "I talk to my friends!" But Big B persisted, "No, you don't talk very much." J-babe didn't know how to answer this one. I was overhearing, and actually wondering the answer to that one, too. If Big B had asked me, I wouldn't know what to say. I don't know why, when there are more than 3 kids at our house, she becomes almost silent, and likes to follow the kids around. But you let her play, one on one, with a friend, in a closed room, and I can hear her talking away.

Or another one that Big B has asked many times over the years: "Why does J-babe have so many people to help her? Like at school, why does she have her aide, and I don't?" Again, the same answer, she's just different than you. And she needs a little more help than you do. This usually leads to him boasting, "Well, I don't need extra help! I can do things by myself!"

The best thing about these two is that they are BOTH different, in their own ways. Big B has mastocytocis, a blood disorder that caused him to have spots on his body, mostly his torso, which will fade until adolescence. These make him very different as well, but only on the outside. J-babe's differences make her behave and experience things differently. She's even asked him why he has those spots, and his answer always is, "Because they make me special!" Maybe Big B has to learn why J-babe's differences make her special, too, and I'm sure he will.

As the years go on, and my little boy learns more about the world around him, and about people surrounding him, he will continue ask more questions, more in-depth ones, that will allow me to share more with him about what makes his big sister different. I just hope that I can continue to answer in a way that will not take away from the view he holds of his big sister. I want him to see her as an equal, as someone who can do anything he can, and if not, can at least learn how to. And as long as J-babe has a brother like Big B, I'm sure she can do anything. He helps her reach new heights and will take her places that I probably never could, because no matter what kind of children you have, the bond between siblings is still the strongest bond.

1 comment:

  1. I know my situation is different, but I think your parenting is working well. I never saw myself as any different from my siblings, and I don't think they really did, either. My mom said I realized I was different in some ways when I was about 2, and my then baby brother could make a fist, and I couldn't. But as a whole, I was never treated differently from my siblings (except maybe insofar as individual children have different needs anyway). I think you're doing a great job with your kids. :)