This morning, my 10 year old, #1 with Autism, was playing a game with his siblings. It was loud and it involved running. I didn't care that they were running in the house or being loud because they were playing appropriately. The twins and #3 would approach #1 and make a duck sound. Then, #1 would lurch at them like a monster and then the three little crazies would run away screaming, leaving #1 laughing with a big smile on his face. The game continued all morning until they left for school. At one point, #3 sat down to play his DS, but #1 still wanted to play, so he stood in front of #3 and said, "I'm waiting here", His perfect pitch does allow him to imitate my Jersey accent perfectly, and then the game resumed.
While I was getting the kids ready for school, I told #3 several times to get his shoes on, but he wasn't complying. #1 knew that if #3 continued to be non-compliant, he was going to get into trouble, so he picked up the shoes and tried to put them on #3's feet. He has never done anything like that before and I stood there, stunned. He wanted to play with #3 and didn't want him to get into trouble, so he was trying to protect him. It was subtly amazing. If you didn't know anything about him, it wouldn't have even tipped the radar, but I stood there and watched him do everything so matter-of-factly. He did have some trouble putting on #3's shoes and I decided to talk him through the process instead of jumping in to do it, and he did it. I had to correct the wrong feet, but he did it, just like a big brother would. Just like a typical big brother would. Earth to ground control, we have a connection.
We have noticed that #1's interactions with his siblings has been more deliberate and reciprocal lately. Before, the girls would pull him places or make demands on him and he would comply even if it made him unhappy. He is a child of ABA, he is trained to comply with demand. When he was almost three years old, he began ABA therapy. He is accustomed to people placing demands on him and regardless of his feelings about the tasks, he would have to complete them. We have seen him switch off a show he was watching because the girls told him to change it. He would get very upset, but he did as they asked. We've seen him give up playing his X-Box because one of his brothers kicked him off of it, which caused him to run off screaming and took him hours to recover from. We had to teach him the phrase, " you're not my Mom or my Dad and I don't have to listen to you" to counter the brothers when they were bossing him around. All the kids viewed #1 more as a tool and less as a sibling to interact with.
Lately, he has been acutely plugged in to what his siblings like. He knows about Star Wars because his brothers like it, but he is more drawn to the girls just because he likes the same things they do: Disney Jr, My Little Ponies and Jumping on the trampoline. I have walked into his room to see the twins sitting with him playing ponies. I watched them laugh and play together so spontaneously and naturally. I have forced myself to look past the six year difference between them and the fact that a typical 10 year old has an entirely different set of interests than #1, to see precious sibling interactions. He is not just responding, he is engaging them appropriately, and that is no small feat.
I have watched all five kids play games on the trampoline together. It is seldom that all five can have a prolonged positive interaction, so when it happens, I have to sit back, appreciate the moment and wait for someones head to get bonked to break the streak.
We always stress to #2, the aspy, that he needs to be helpful to the siblings and act like a big brother. I think that somewhere in #1's head, something clicked. He realized that if he is older than #2, then he should act like a big brother too. Or maybe, his helpfulness partly stems from his Auditory Processing issues, since it is much easier to help them so they don't cry, than to listen to them cry. Maybe it started there, but when he gets the positive reinforcement for playing with his siblings: fun, he see the value in it.
The primary driver of ABA is the reward. To get a child to complete a task, the reward must be worthy of the effort. Many kids with Autism view communication or interaction with people as a functional act; I need something, they need to help me get it, I need to use my communication skills. It is a pragmatic use of communication. When they are using their communication skills appropriately and the reward is not tangible, but a feeling, like having fun, it is a milestone. For kids on the spectrum to seek out interaction with people because they feel it is fun, is so huge.
There were times in the past that I worried about what his capacity would be as a functional, contributing, sibling, classmate, and person at large. I must say, that I am worried no more. His skills are emerging and improving daily. Thanks to his siblings, who push him and see him for who he is, his potential is so much more than if he were an only child. I have seen the shift in the way he deals with the twins and his brothers and although he may be emotionally a few years behind his typical peers, I have faith that he will get there in time. Even the turtle finishes the race eventually.