Monday, October 17, 2011

when your sibling has autism.

My daughter Cameron was born the same year that my son Max was diagnosed with autism. For her entire life she has been trucked around to parent training classes, specialist appointments, and therapy sessions, all because of her older brother. But she doesn't know any different – to her this is the norm.

She has learned that to make sure her needs are met, she has to speak up for herself and be demanding. Whether it's nature or nurture, she has been blessed with a personality that ensures she will never go ignored. Before we had Cameron, I had no idea what raising a "normal" kid was like. When she just knew how to play with toys instead of throwing them, and she waved goodbye unprompted, I figured I had a wee Einstein in my midst. She made strange with people she didn't know, called me "mama" by one year of age and grew attached to specific toys. Cameron showed me that Max wasn't unable to do certain things because I was a terrible mother. He couldn't do certain things because he just wasn't wired to do them.
This little girl is also one of the most loving and resilient souls I have ever encountered. Having a sibling with autism is hard. He doesn't know how to play like the other kids. He cries when she gets upset and can be rough and aggressive seemingly out of nowhere. But Max has also grown quite attached to Cameron. She often sleeps in his bed with him, loves to take bathes with him, and affectionately calls him "Buddy". When she doesn't want to play outside with him he gets really sad and calls out "Cammie! Cammie!" until she joins him. She often understands what he is saying while the rest of us are left scratching our heads. Best of all, she forces him to be social every waking moment so that even when he isn't at school or in therapy he has a pesky little sister nipping at his heels.
We do our best to make sure that Cameron gets her own share of special treatment. I often take her out with me, just the two of us. She is also a night owl (I suspect this is partly due to taking after her father and partly to get one on one time with us). And while it's less than ideal, most of the time she still sleeps with us. I figure that one day she'll be a sullen teenager that won't want to be seen with me and I'll think back fondly to when she used to take up the majority of our bed by sleeping sideways. Or maybe not. But my point, is that because she puts up with a lot, we are likely more flexible than we would be otherwise.

I'd say she is a bit spoiled, except for the fact that she has to deal with things that most kids don't. She accepts Max for all of his eccentricities, doesn't hold a grudge when he pulls out a handful of her hair (not for long anyway), and my happiest moments as a parent are when I see her and Max playing together. It will be interesting to see how their relationship develops as they get older. Next year Cameron will go to the same school as Max and I'm glad we'll have one of our own keeping an eye out for him.

She may be small, but she is mighty.


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  2. The photos are so adorable. I think kids with autism, they need all the patience, love, and support from the people that surrounds them.

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