Tag Archives: autism and siblings

Sibling Gifts

“I don’t know who is the bigger gift to each other.”

I uttered those words through tear stained cheeks to a crowd of strangers after the first reading of my book. I didn’t expect to get so emotional, but I should have know I would. My children simply move me; especially in relation to each other.

My oldest child, Jenna has loved Ryan for the Ryan he is, from the beginning. She endured his countless tantrums that were often aimed at her, and still tried to play with him moments later. She pushed day in and day out to make him engage in anything with her.

I recall watching them one day not long after his diagnosis. He was maneuvering around his train table and she was trying to do what he did. I’m assuming just to be with him. He tolerated it, I think, because it was her. He gave a few squeals when she touched something she shouldn’t, but this interaction went on far longer than I had seen or expected.

I remember thinking then: he loves her. Which sounded strange; of course he loved her, it’s his sister. But Ryan didn’t have language then and I had to guess a lot of what he was thinking or feeling.  It wasn’t just because he was allowing her to touch his trains, it was his body language towards her. She stood very close to him and he tolerated it. She reached out and wrapped her arms around his neck in a tight embrace and he didn’t push her away, well not immediately. Jenna picked up a forgotten train, handed it to him and he would actually look at what she had in her hand and at her. What his therapists would have given to see a natural interaction like that.

There are very few people in the world who Ryan likes in his life and Jenna is the top of the list. For many years after he could talk, his first question was “Where’s Jenna?” And to this day, he has to know where she is at all times. I can say the converse is true too. Jenna prefers his company to most people. They just have an ease about them that is uncanny. Not only is that unusual for someone with autism its unusual for any siblings (no offense to my siblings).  Of course Jenna and Ryan have their moments when they annoy each other, but I have to say, it’s rare.

Is this because Jenna is an incredibly caring, patient person? Sure that has a lot to do with it. But I believe she just never saw him as different. She has the remarkable ability to look at him for Ryan, not his diagnosis. Jenna has taught Ryan unconditional love (from someone other than his parents) and the best part is he accepted it. He has always allowed her to love him.

So, who is the bigger gift to each other? I believe the equation is balanced; they are both equally blessed. Perhaps they get different things from their relationship, but the scale is even. And their lives have been irrevocably changed due to the other. (Yup, mom tears again…)

I truly believe siblings like Jenna, are going to be the leaders in acceptance. They are going to be the ones who change perspectives on autism and other disorders. They are going to be the wave of new thinking and change our world needs. Because her mind set comes from a pure heart, and how can you inspire change if you don’t start there? If she isn’t the example needed, I don’t know what is.

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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.



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