I know that is how you must often feel, like my “other kids.” The older three siblings of “the one with autism.” You have never said it. But sometimes in the middle of the night, I lie awake blanketed in guilt.
When we spoke on the phone earlier in the day, I told you how excited I was that your little brother had his first non-meltdown haircut. But I forgot to ask you how your day was. I forgot to tell you how proud I am of you. I forgot to tell you I love you. Your younger sibling’s needs are so big that sometimes I forget to fill your smallest ones.
On most days, it takes more of what I am even capable of to parent your younger sibling. The day to day mundane tasks I never even stopped to consider when you were growing up, are all enormous challenges for your little brother. We work hard to help him overcome things that, for you, came easy. He needs more of me than you did, and because of that, now you get less.
I remember when each of you was born. It always surprised me how much of my day it took to take care of a newborn that slept most of the time! In the first few weeks, days would go by before I realized I had not showered. But I loved every minute of those early weeks when I could bundle you each up like a baby burrito and snuggle you until my heart’s content.
Then came the wiggly toddler phase. Whew! The days got long and messy! You strew building blocks, baby dolls, and crushed Cheerios from one end of the house to the other. You had bruised knees from those first wobbly steps, and I scrambled to keep up with jotting down in your baby books the words you began to learn rapidly.
Once you hit school-age, life shifted again. You kept me even busier! Three kids needed help with homework, three kids needed to get to soccer practice and dance lessons, three kids needed dinner, three kids each wanted three friends over. Our home was alive! I never realized how much I would miss those days—the joy of leftover pizza in the fridge and piles of sneakers at the front door.
Your little brother was born when most of you were nearly grown—an unexpected blessing. As a baby, my experience with him was familiar, but when he became a toddler, I knew things were much different. He struggled to communicate, which caused him and me so much frustration.
He struggled if his routine was disrupted. Everyday tasks such as mealtimes and diaper changes were giant hurdles. Our family was overwhelmed. After his autism diagnosis at age three, his life and mine would become consumed with therapy and doctor’s appointments.
His progress over the years has been remarkable, and he is now quite the animated and funny little guy. But he still has progress to be made, and it will still require a part of me that you must give up.
As unfair as that is, I believe the trade-off is the amazing people you have become as siblings of a child with autism. When he sees you, his face lights up as if real-life superheroes just walked in the room. I am sure you can tell by how he squeezes your necks as if he will never let go.
He expects nothing from you, but when you show up with the smallest of trinkets, it is as if you have given him the world. His innocence and vulnerability are reminders that we all have a role in sacrificing for those that need more.
To my older three children, remember you are not “my other children,” you are all my children. I may not have equal time for you, but I love you all equally.