Autism Unexpected: Sibling Responsibility

I’ve always thought that Jack is so lucky to have two such wonderful brothers. As a very shy young person myself, I know how important it is to have a sibling to help you out. I have vivid memories of my sister being asked to hang out with me during elementary school recess because she had friends and I didn’t.

However, no matter how glad I am that Jack has his older brother, Sam, and his younger brother, Quinn, to help and teach him, it also pains me a little bit to give them the extra responsibility of helping to take care of him.

Most of what I ask them to do are things kids would already do for neurotypical siblings. For instance, Sam paves the way for Jack with teachers, he helps Jack make friends by being such a social butterfly, and he helps Jack get to the morning school line-up spot.

I drop them off at school and send them away from the car every morning, and Sam encourages Jack to come with him. Sometimes they hold hands. Someone from Jack’s school told me that Sam walks Jack to his line, makes sure he’s facing the right direction, and then goes off to his own line. I’m a little bit afraid of the day that Jack refuses and Sam doesn’t know what to do. I hope when that day comes that there is an adult nearby to help. Because I don’t want to have put Sam in that position.

Although as the older brother, Sam does most of the leading and the helping, even Quinn seems to understand that Jack needs a little bit of extra help.

For instance, one day at the bus stop. I’d taken my dog with me and she was freaking out because there was another dog with the temerity to be merely a block away from her. I’m seriously on the verge of getting the dog stuffed and using her as a coffee table, but that’s another post entirely.

While I was dealing with the dog, Jack (who’d already gotten off of his bus, which arrives earlier than Sam’s) and Quinn took off. Now, the bus stop is only a block and a half from home and my kids don’t have to cross streets to get there, but I don’t let them run off until I’m also on my way back home. And they usually don’t. Sometimes as soon as Sam gets off the bus, Jack and Quinn will take off running for home. But today, they took off while my attention was on the dog not choking herself with her own collar.

Once I had the dog calmed down, I looked around and didn’t see them. I knew where they would have gone, but I don’t like them being out of my sight around the corner. Plus I couldn’t go track them down without abandoning Sam, whose bus was due any second.

Then I saw them. Jack was running, and Quinn was trying to tackle him. Quinn knew they shouldn’t be leaving the bus stop and he was trying to stop Jack. I shouted for them to come back and Jack kept going, with Quinn holding on to his sweatshirt, vainly trying to drag him back.

Fortunately Sam’s bus arrived and the group at the bus stop pointed him toward me, halfway down the block. We started walking home with Jack and Quinn still ahead of us, Quinn still trying to stop Jack.

It all ended at the house before ours, where Quinn fell and scraped his stomach in the driveway. Jack obliviously ran home, where he was summarily put in timeout and then got a pretty stringent lecture about staying at the bus stop.

I still firmly believe that having an autistic brother is a wonderful thing for Sam and Quinn. And I still firmly believe that Jack is a wonderful brother and gives as much back to Sam and Quinn as they give to him.

But some days I feel a little sad for the extra responsibility my eight- and four-year-old have.

This post was previously posted at Jean’s personal blog, Stimeyland. The bus stop continues to be a struggle for us. And all three brothers continue to love each other with their whole beings.

Originally published at Autism Unexpected on January 23, 2010.