Tuesday, October 7, 2008

DCMM: A Burden to His Brothers?

When you have an autistic child, as I do, you hear lots of unsolicited opinions and advice from friends and strangers alike.  Most of it is well-meaning, so even if I don't agree with what someone says, I try to make something good out of it.

Sometimes that means I get to give someone some positive information about autism. Sometimes it means that I give the comment some thought and clarify what I think, if only to myself.

Still, sometimes it's hard to hear what people say. A few days ago someone was talking to me about my three sons and made the comment that in some ways Jack is a burden on his two brothers.

My first reaction was to inwardly cringe. Even though she meant that my other two sons have to work harder to get attention or that they copy some of the negative behaviors they see from Jack, my autistic child, it hurt that anyone would consider him to be a burden. He's beautiful, sweet, smart, loved, and wanted in every way.

When I thought about it more, I realized that having a brother with special needs definitely has an impact on my other sons' lives. But I think that most of these impacts will end up being benefits—especially in the long run.

I think one of the biggest benefits of having an autistic brother is that my other children will grow up around people with disabilities. I hope they will grow up without fear of people who are different than them. I hope they will grow up with compassion and empathy for all people.

When my kids play their hand-held electronic games in the waiting room at my oldest's karate class, typical children peek over their shoulder. When they play them in the waiting room at Jack's speech therapy, kids with Down syndrome peer at the games.  I like that. I appreciate that my children will see all of these kids as people with similar interests.

I know that some people would look at the extra help my other sons have to give Jack, and I know some people will see it as a burden. When Jack's older brother walks him from the car to his kindergarten classroom in the morning so he doesn't wander off, it's not a burden. It's a lesson in looking out for other people. When Jack's younger brother shouts, "Jack's running away," and chases after him, I see the same thing. I see how it makes them feel important and gives them some easy positive responsibility.

Sure, Jack's brothers have to sit around and wait while Jack has therapy appointments. But Jack sits around while his big brother takes karate. Jack's brothers are learning that different people do different things. And that's okay. In fact, my oldest son is even intensely jealous of Jack's occupational therapy.
I think having a brother with autism will help them grow up to be kind. It will teach them about acceptance. It will give them a different perspective on the world.

Having a brother with autism will also show them that autistic people can be just like them. I watch my three little dudes run around and play and dance and bond and I realize that no one who is that much a part of your team, who has so much loyalty and love for you, who is so happy to be with you, can be a burden.

I know that having an autistic child has changed me for the better. Jack has given me a deeper understanding of disability and a greater capacity for love of differences in people. He has helped me look at the world in a different way and increased my tolerance of others. Now when I see a misbehaving or differently acting child, I don't automatically think they're badly behaved. I consider that there might be something deeper at play. I recognize that there are deeply feeling and thinking people with disabilities, not just people with disabilities.

If Jack has given this to me in my 30s, imagine what he can give to his brothers, who have known him all of their lives. It's an incredible thought to me. And something that I can't believe will ever be a burden to them.

I think a burden implies that you want to put something down. There is no way on Earth that I want to put Jack down. And neither do his brothers.

Original DC Metro Moms Blog post.

Visit Jean's main blog, Stimeyland, to read more about the relationship between these three wonderful brothers.

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