“Do you want to brighten up a party?” That’s one of my favorite lines from my son, Alex. That’s Alex’s way of asking if we want to play with him. When he first said that to us, we didn’t know what he was asking. Today, I use the same line when I want to spend special time with him. “Alex, do you want to brighten up a party?” Today, in honor of World Autism Day, I want to talk about Michael’s twin brother, Alex. As a sibling of autism, Alex, as young as he is, has been my constant rock and I couldn’t love him anymore if I tried.
Before I go any further, I want to talk a little bit about World Autism Day and what it means to my family and me. Last year, I was so honored to be collaborating with my friend and fellow autism mom, Jessica Holley. This year, I’m happy to share that we are collaborating again in the hopes of bringing more autism awareness to the world. Please go say hello to Jessica and tell her I sent you. You can find her YouTube channel Blessed Jess here. One of the best things about my blog and social media is that it gives me a voice for my son and other children with disabilities.
There are many challenges special needs families must face. For siblings living with a brother or sister on the spectrum, the relationship is very different than neurotypical siblings. For many, social skills are affected. A feeling of being neglected or not given as much attention to can also be experienced. My husband and I do our best to fulfill Alex’s needs as well as Michael’s. It’s a real balancing act and sometimes we fall short. As a mom, I sometimes feel like I am sacrificing one child for the other; however, I know this is normal and I’m not alone in feeling this way.
Prior to Michael being diagnosed, Alex and Michael played very well together. They had normal interactions and got along very well. They often laughed at each other and it was so beautiful to watch. One of my favorite videos is of Michael and Alex playing together, crawling in and out of a pop-up tunnel. It was so important to me, to have them love each other and get along. Having a sister, who I consider my best friend, I had hoped they would be able to have a relationship that was similar. As the months went by and I started to notice more differences between the boys, I knew that hope was fading. At least at the time, that’s how I felt.
Michael was diagnosed in February 2014. The boys were 21 months old. From that moment on, we began to try explaining in age appropriate ways about Michael’s autism. I doubt that Alex was really understanding it back then but, as we continued to keep Alex informed of what was happening with Michael, Alex was starting to notice the differences himself. Early in Michael’s diagnosis, tantrums were happening on a daily basis, often several times during the day. It was overwhelming for all of us, but I could see how it was affecting Alex. As Alex was starting to communicate and Michael was losing his words, I would have to explain in simple terms why Michael was crying. I would often tell Alex, ‘Michael is tired’, ‘he didn’t sleep well’ or ‘he isn’t feeling well.’ This changed, of course, as time went by and he was able to understand that Michael was not able to use his words to tell me what was wrong.
As I watched Alex hit all his milestones and begin to form sentences, I experienced mixed feelings. I was thrilled that Alex was starting to talk, but I was heartbroken that I may never hear a word from Michael. In the beginning of his autism journey, so many professionals told us, that many of their former students would suddenly begin to talk at age 5, 6 and 7. I held on to that hope with every birthday that passed. Michael currently has some words, but he is nowhere near a full sentence.
I started to send Alex to a daycare/preschool because my husband and I wanted him to not only start his academics early, but also establish a way of learning social skills and having friends. The first day we dropped Alex off was so emotional for me (like so many moms 😊). Alex cried as we left, and I bawled my eyes out the entire way home. Was I making the right decision, and would Alex think I abandoned him? Looking back now, I know wholeheartedly that it was the best decision my husband and I made. Not only did it give him a great foundation for education, but it also gave him socializing opportunities and the opportunity to make lifelong friends. I was so lucky to have found a place we could afford and a place where the teachers were solid gold. Alex learned so much, but I learned along with him.
As Alex has grown into a beautiful little boy, he has acquired quite the personality. He is a dreamer, entertainer and comedian. I think he takes after me! Lol!! I do, however, see a lot of his dad as well. He is stubborn, a great thinker, and athletic. He loves his YouTube videos, Xbox and is a huge Pokémon fan.
In the past few months, Alex has taken a great interest in teaching Michael, along with Michael’s therapist. He will often make his own worksheets for them to use during their sessions. He will make a name worksheet so Michael can practice writing his name. He makes math worksheets too. He is very aware of what Michael is capable of and what he tries to teach him. He will make a point of giving Michael his sensory breaks when needed. I love to watch them interact. It’s not the same as it was when they were babies, but that’s okay. I know now it doesn’t have to be. What it is today is just as beautiful.
Alex really cares about Michael and if he gets to have a playdate with his friends, he tells us that we need to have Michael’s friends over too. He wants everything to be fair. If he goes to the store and he buys a toy, candy or lollipop, he always brings something back for Michael. He loves his brother and it’s very heartwarming to see. Alex also tries to explain the situation to his friends when they meet his brother. He will explain to them, “Michael is autistic, and he can’t talk. He is still learning how, but he can say hello to you.” Thankfully, most of his friends know of Michael’s autism and are very welcoming to him as well.
Lastly, I just want to say I know there are so many resources out there for autism siblings. My original thought when starting this blog post was to share statistics and resources with you. However, after thinking about it, I just wanted to talk about Alex. I wanted to share why he is such a great kid and how he helps me get through the days. He is truly a remarkable little boy and yes, I’m biased, but I think if you met him, you would agree.
Before I end this, I want to share one funny story with you. Somehow, a few months ago, we got on the subject of underwear, specifically undershirts, and how mom doesn’t wear them. I said to Alex, “No, I wear a bra. Do you know what a bra is?” He said, “Of course! A bra is something that looks like a huge pair of sunglasses and you strap it around your chest!” Hilarious! I was crying laughing when he said that! That’s my Alex!
If you would like more information regarding autism and/or autism sibling relationships, please comment below. I’d love to share more info with you or if there is someone you know who can benefit.