Our daughter’s diagnosis of autism impacted each member of our family differently. I held fiercely to a misdiagnosis, denial. Followed closely by anger. Sharlene was immediately saddened. Our parents were in denial for quite awhile and bargaining by the time our Birth to Three services were ending. We all went through some part of the stages of grief, and likely repeated a few.

The one member of our family not immediately impacted by our little girl’s diagnosis was her brother. The fifteen month age difference meant he was very young and discovering the world of play. By the middle of pre-kindergarten he started to notice his sister was different.

“Sissy doesn’t want to play with me.” he would complain. It was painful to watch him try to show her a toy and see the smile sink into a frown as she ‘ignored’ him. Back to the stages of grief!

Fortunately, getting ready for ‘big boy’ school provided a framework for our son to understand learning. HE went to school to learn his letters, numbers, and how to make friends. His SISTER went to (early intervention program) school to learn to speak and play. “Yes”, she did get to go to the BIG school and “No” he couldn’t go. HE had already learned how to speak and play. These questions were answered multiple times throughout her first year of services.

We discovered our daughter’s ability to speak when she stared to read books. Her brother was as proud as the rest of us that she could speak. He thought the reading part was pretty ‘cool’. When he put pressure on himself to read too, we often reminded him that his sister practices the things that come easy for him, like making friends. We use the same logic to explain how everyone has something to learn and that mistakes/missteps are the perfect opportunity to grow. As a six year old perfectionist, he continues to struggle with this way of thinking though.

The night before Thanksgiving was fairly strained this year. As we ate dinner and colored at the kitchen table, my son became progressively annoying tired. He starts bouncing up and down, getting louder and pushy throughout the evening. At the point that I was about to lose my last nerve, he shows me his Thanksgiving essay:

“Thanksgiving reminds me of all the things I am thankful for. I appreciate S___,my friend and sports. I am especially thankful for S____ because she makes me laugh. She likes to play with me. She is nice to me…”

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S____ is his sister. I cannot being to describe the feelings these words evoked. I hand the laminated paper to Sharlene who starts to tear up as well. “What a great essay buddy!” He rattles off the process they used to list what they were thankful for and the sloppy copy with mistakes, oblivious to the emotion in the room. S____ is pretty oblivious too. Her response to a long day is to ‘check in’ to that inner world we constantly try to bridge. They end the night with a game of tickle tag that quickly becomes take-down/tackle. Although I am not ‘grateful’ for the struggles that have come with the diagnosis of autism, I feel blessed from the unexpected joys those struggles bring.

 

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