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The Power of Siblings

Over the years, I have met many parents of children with Autism.  After they learn how many kids I have, some of them usually express a desire to have more kids, but they are apprehensive. The thought of having another child with a disability is intimidating. Many of them feel that one child with Autism is difficult enough and it would be unfair to add more to mix. 

Maybe our situation was different. When #1 was diagnosed, number 2 was already there. When number #2 was diagnosed, number 3 was on his way. When #3 was 16 months we had him evaluated and began Early Intervention services. And when #4 &#5 were on their way, we already knew what we were dealing with, and if these children had complications, we would deal with it.

When we were planning the kids, I wanted the kids to be close in age so the bond would be tighter than if I had waited several years between them. I wanted them to have a family in which they couldn't remember not having the others there.

What I know for sure, is that they all benefit from having each other in their lives. One of the biggest concerns when you have a child with Autism is their difficulty with socialization. When you have siblings, you have to learn how to interact with them. With practice, modeling and facilitation, all kids can learn to bond with their siblings. It is social group intensified. You can't  learn the interpersonal communication skills in a formal setting that teach the subtleties of  sibling interaction. Everyday the kids are learning to live with each other, talk with each other and play with each other. They are learning boundaries, triggers, and problem solving, and it benefits them all.  

I know my #1, who is the least functional of my kids, would not have the social abilities  he has today without them. He has learned to stand up for himself when #2, the Aspy, tries to boss him around. He will interact with #3 when he hears him call his name. And he will try to soothe the twins when one of them is crying. He will go up to the non-crying twin and say to her while he is pulling her towards the crying twin , "here, go make her feel better." (This is a million times better than what he used to do: grab his ears and start crying). On other occasions he will ask them "what's the matter? What can I do?" This is eons, past the kid who used to hit other kids that cried because it caused him to have a sensory meltdown. Having them in his life changed him. For the girls, having someone that could put on the DVD or the TV show they wanted was worth it's weight in gold. They asked, he delivered. He had no choice but to play attention to those little people pulling at his shirt because they wouldn't relent until he delivered. Because together, they could take him down.

Sometimes, I sit back and just listen to the kids talk to each other. I hear the girls talking about princesses and Strawberry Shortcake and I love the interaction they have with each other. At three years old, they have a great  socialization skills. The boys didn't have that ability until they were much older. When I hear #2 & #3 playing legos, or stuffed animals together, they have a dialogue, a game, or a goal. Ok, maybe the Aspy is setting the rules and controlling the game, but they are still playing together, which is something that kids with Autism usually have great difficulty with. But, because they are siblings, they are accustomed to each other and have an established dialogue.

When all five children are playing Just Dance 4, I sit, watch & listen to the conversation happening between them all while they are dancing, or trying to dance. (it usually looks like a butt crack bar mitzvah). They may not have the eye contact, but, they are talking to each other unprompted.

It is true they have moments that they fight, manipulate and antagonize each other. (My husband, an only child, never had the pleasure of typical sibling interaction). Those moments are when you jump in and model the behavior they need to resolve the situation:"I don't like it when you put my stuffed animal in the toilet." Then model the response for the perpetrator, "I'm sorry. I won't do it again. Let me put it in the dryer" Every conflict is an opportunity to teach and give them the tools, so maybe one day, they can negotiate a conflict without intervention. 

So my advice to the over thinkers: listen to your heart, know your capacity. When #3 was only 4 months old, I told my close friends that I felt that "someone's missing." Every time someone would ask me after that, "So, are you done now?", I'd say, "No, someone's missing." I knew in my heart, that someone was missing and another baby was in our future. Turns out that "someone" was a happy, chatty, pair of giggle girls that not only make me laugh, smile and appreciate the sheer beauty of their souls every day, but  are exactly what our family needed. Now, everyone is present and accounted for and better for it.

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