Driving in the car tends to be stressful in my family. Let me correct that...arriving anywhere by car tends to be stressful. This is how the scenario usually plays out. We arrive at our destination and my son (7 yrs, ASD) quickly proceeds to get out of the car. My 5 yr old daughter (NT) still can’t always open the door from the inside by herself so she will just proceed to get out on the same side as my son. He will immediately get upset and yell at her that she can’t get out on his side because it’s his side and she needs to get out on her own side. I quickly try to smother the fire which will then lead into at least a 5 minute conversation trying to explain why it doesn’t matter, etc...etc… This occurrence will usually set off something else he will get irritated about and then, well, it’s just a vicious cycle. My daughter has gotten so used to it that sometimes she doesn’t even respond. Other times she will yell back and it starts a giant argument back and forth.
TV watching also tends to be a bit stressful in our home. Because of my son’s processing delays, difficulty in understanding pretend vs. real, and OCD tendencies, he tends to ask a million questions during a movie or anything else he watches. He will also ask the same questions over and over again (during the same part, even when he already knows the answer). My daughter, who can process things normally, initially will answer some of the questions, but without a doubt (and I can’t say I blame her) will get very frustrated and say things like, “I already told you!”, “I’m trying to watch this!”, “You’ve already asked me that!”, “Stop asking me so many questions!”. It’s painful to watch, quite honestly. I feel bad for both of them.
I mention these two examples because recently, I’ve really been thinking about how on Earth to navigate the sibling relationship of my kids. I realize I am a model for my children. Oftentimes, because of the incessant questions, I will lose patience with my son. And now as I hear the tone my daughter sometimes answers him in, sometimes I hear myself. Another epic mommy fail!! How do I teach my daughter to be patient with the special needs my son has when I can’t always be patient? When do I talk to her about his differences and how do I do it in a way that will teach her to appreciate and love who he is? What’s an appropriate age to discuss it all with her? How do I teach her to come alongside him as a helper and encourager? How do I foster a healthy relationship between the two of them? Because I’m already beginning to see her frustration and hurt when he yells at her for something so little over and over again.
Can I be honest? I’m scared. I’m not so naive to think that neurotypical sibling relationships are perfect. But what I describe, well, it’s just different. I can’t quite explain it, but if you’re a mom of a child with special needs, then I know you understand. I don’t currently have answers to these questions. So in the meantime, I know I need to first and foremost work on my own attitude and how I respond to my son so that I can at least be setting a good example for my daughter. I can’t take away my son’s special needs. But hopefully in the end I can foster a relationship between them where they learn to not just love and respect each other and have fun together, but to also understand and really appreciate their differences. What have been your challenges in this area?
~ Trisha Bailey