There is a line of thinking among many parents whom I meet at our centre. Its as usual an Indian approach. A lot of parents opt to have second children even after getting a diagnosis of autism for their first child in the belief that this will ensure that the autistic child will be taken care of even after the death of the parents. It’s a very unfair situation. Why would you burden a child with caring for his or her sibling all their lives? They didn’t ask for the responsibility and in many cases they will resent their siblings as soon as they realise what is expected of them.
The autistic child is the sun around which the family is forced to revolve. A lot of outings, carefree activities, relaxing jaunts etc. are denied to the family as a whole. Always there are explanations. Always there is stress. And always the siblings are told to adjust. The siblings of kids with autism don’t have it easy. They are expected to be defenders, caregivers and playmates whether they want to or not. Sometimes they get hurt physically by their siblings whereas sometimes they merely get embarrassed but always there will be a thread of resentment in the mixed emotions neurotypical children feel towards their autistic siblings. Parents should understand this and make space and time for all their children even though they are stretched thin. After all, being a parent is a choice and its not an easy one.
In my opinion, a sibling has very beneficial effects on a child with autism. And they do grow up to be stronger because of it. Like any siblings, they will have a unique bond and its up to us parents to leave that be. We cannot pressure one child to take care of the other or to be us when we have to be elsewhere. We have to learn to take pride in each child for whoever they are. If we force a certain kind of behaviour, the effect will be the opposite and we would end up increasing the distance between siblings in the long run.
I have a son and a daughter. My son has autism and my daughter is a typical teenager. She is 4 years younger and fiercely protective of her brother. He dotes on her and makes her overly-sweet juices and milkshakes when she gets home after playing outside. They fight. They laugh. They don’t have long meaningful conversations because as of now my son cannot do that. I know she feels like she is missing out on having a regular brother like her friends do but she is also lovingly accepting of him. I let them fight. I let them make up. And I tell her not to feel guilty about having fun with her friends just because my son cannot.
Every child is unique and needs to be celebrated. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that the other child shoulders pain every single day in their own way. If we could foster love and caring without forcing responsibility, then we have achieved the right balance for all our children.