I thought it fitting to acknowledge National Sibling Day during this Autism Awareness month. My words may not do justice to how important my daughter, Jenna has been for, my son, Ryan. Siblings can be the best built-in peer partners an autistic child can have–if the sibling is willing to participate. Luckily, she has shown a keen interest in him since the day he was born, long before he was diagnosed. To the point of (mostly his) annoyance, she has never left him alone. I hear him scream her name no less than five times a day, and I know it’s because she’s teasing him. God bless her for that. Yes, it’s irritating, but she doesn’t treat him different and never has–even after she was old enough to know about his disorder.
I have been blessed with three siblings myself, and we naturally have different ways of communicating with each other. Jenna and Ryan have only each other, and due to his language deficit, Jenna had to first relate to him by his actions. In my upcoming book, Make a Wish for Me, I tried to illustrate how early on Jenna was a wonderful ‘mini’ therapist and participated in Ryan’s daily sessions. But, what I didn’t get to elaborate on is their interactions now. Then, their relationship was still somewhat simple exchanges. And she did a lot of “talking” for him as older siblings will do. However, I believe, she really did know how to interpret what he wanted or was trying to say. I think due to his lack of speech, they found a way to mentally connect, not using words. I know he did this with me, which is why I think that became their way of communicating. This initial mental connection has stayed with them.
Now that Ryan has the amazing gift of speech, they have found movie scenes as their way of interacting. If I had to guess I would say, that’s not Jenna’s first pick. She probably would much rather do crafts or ride bikes with him. But, as she learned long ago, in order to interact with Ryan, you mostly have to do what interests him. So, movie scenes it is. Again, the annoyance level for me is sometimes unbearable after hearing them act out the same scene for the fifth time. But when I hear the sheer giggles of joy–from both of them, I can do nothing more than smile. Smile deep from my soul and thank god they were given each other.
The complexity of their relationship isn’t easily defined, especially by me, because I’m only an observer. But, what I see clearly is they adore each other. I truly believe the one person Ryan would miss the most on earth is Jenna. She is the first person he asks about every day; and if she’s away, he just isn’t himself with out her. Same goes for Jenna–as she has told me many times unprompted, “Ryan is my best friend.” Although she may not say those words to him, she shows it. And he knows.
So, today I honor my children as the best siblings in the world. I thank them both for the love and attention they give each other. May they always be there for each other and never stop laughing.