KEEPING THE BALANCE: RAISING BOTH AUTISTIC AND NORMAL CHILDREN IN ONE HOME
It isn’t an unusual situation to have both an autistic and a typical child in your family growing together in the same type of environment. As a matter of fact, these scenarios can happen to any family who has two or more offspring, given that autism is not a disorder that has a great linkage to hereditary factors. Although some causes are known to be genetic in nature, mutations of these genes may happen after childbirth, and not directly inherited from the parents. As such, it would be very inappropriate to conclude that if an autistic child has siblings, all of the brothers and sisters are autistic as well.
Because cases like these happen in real life, the lifestyle of affected families become even more complicated as parents face the challenge of addressing the different needs of both autistic and normal siblings. What the typical siblings would feel and how they would react to this underlying household setting can also greatly affect the overall status of family living. Normal children may perceive the autistic condition of their brother or sister as either a challenge or an opportunity, and your guidance as parents will matter the most in maintaining a balanced and nurturing environment for all of your children.
When do normal siblings see their autistic brother or sister as a challenge? Here are some of the most common reasons why typically developing children find it hard to live with their autistic siblings and what you can do as parents to straighten out every problem or misunderstanding along the way.
Normal siblings can easily get embarrassed by society’s perception of their autistic sibling’s condition. Especially when they are still kids, normally developing children easily get offended by what other people would say about their friends and family. The worst part is, they can easily believe the things that they hear. So when someone tells them that their brother or sister is a weirdo, it is hard for them to just turn the other cheek. This growing sense of dilemma will most likely to persist, even until teenage or adulthood. There are certain life stages when normal siblings will have to revisit this issue and may try to change their mindset for the better, especially on teenage years when finding dates and throwing parties are the highlight events. The typical sibling may also think critical on this issue when finally deciding to find a lifetime partner and settle down. In this regard, parents should always try to inculcate on their normal children the proper response for these situations, convincing them to accept their autistic sibling’s condition and take pride of it if they can.
The autistic sibling’s handicap may push the normal sibling to take in more responsibilities in the family and step up their game as meeting built up expectations are required of them. A set of household chores that should’ve been divided among the siblings may end up being done by the normal child alone. This would make the latter feel that the autism condition of the other sibling is a heavy burden that he or she will have to carry. Even on more personal and emotional needs, the normal child would be told to manage them on their own or ask for help only when the parents are not occupied with taking care of the autistic sibling. This attitude towards his autistic sibling might even worsen if the parents fail to explain the many great needs of persons with autism while at the same time appreciating everything that the typical sibling has done for the family. Communication is a key factor in helping the normal child understand the nature of his sibling’s disorder and to encourage him or her to become a better brother or sister.
There are instances when the typical sibling cannot help but feel that their parents have an obvious favorite. When the autistic sibling’s condition begins to cause financial constraints in the family, one of those who will be affected the most is the normally developing sibling. That is because parents will have to prioritize the autistic child’s needs over other matters that are not of the life-and-death level of importance. When it comes to wants and interests, the normal sibling will most likely get little to no approval at all and they will be forced to compromise for the sake of the autistic sibling. Medications and therapies will be preferred over toys, and autism-friendly food will be served at the table instead of the normal sibling’s favorites. Unless the autistic sibling is not interested in watching, the television is not free to be enjoyed by other members of the family, including the normal child. On a bigger perspective, such as housing and school preference, the normal child will have no choice but to wait for the family’s final decision after having factored the autistic sibling’s needs in the arrangement. As a parent, there is no easy way to tell your normal child that you are not choosing favorites, but you will still have to try. It may help if you emphasize that you love all of them equally, it’s just that the other one is less capable of overcoming life’s challenges alone, and in the end, you will always be there for all of them whenever they need you.
It isn’t easy to raise many children in the family, let alone have at least one of them with autism. It is your duty as parents to see to it that all of your children feel that they are loved, especially the typically developing ones who are more emotionally vulnerable. Just as much as you want to spend time with your autistic child, make some quality time with your typical child as well and treat him or her as equally special. Do not prevent your normal child from asking you questions related to autism, as long as it educates them about the disorder and helps them understand fully the condition of their sibling.