A family is a blessing and one many of us strive for. Raising children can be a bit daunting to say the least. So when you are in the mist of trying to raise a family and take care of all the details that surround your lifestyle you are up to your armpits in alligators. Adding to this stretch of time and finances is hard for all of us, especially when one or more of our children are challenged. And if you think that is hard for us, just think about the other children in the home.
All of our children hold a very special place in our heart and fill a void in our lives that could not be filled any other way. However, how to get that across to a small child whose health is not impaired, while caring for one who does have impaired health gives us our own set of trials. And as they grow up how to explain to the healthy child why his sibling requires so much attention and why he acts so differently is part of those trials. Every time a special mile marker is missed we break a little inside and every time someone not understanding the special struggle our child has brought us to tears. These struggles within our hearts and minds are times when we as the parents want to have all the answers, but unfortunately have few. Imagine how unsafe this must feel to our other children.
What can we do to help this situation? Counseling is the stock answer you and I receive at the turn of each corner. And that is a very good one, but in between there are times when we must come up with our own answers. First, treating the children the same whether they are the affected child or not is very important, and in many instances we will be able to. Spending time with each child separately is extremely important to provide that child with the knowledge of value with the family and to help grow the self-esteem necessary for a well-rounded adult. Everyone must learn the rules of the road, so to speak, and this includes children with Autism. We may have to make those rules look a little different to help with understanding, but it is still of absolute importance that each child learn the rules. (Remember the book of Helen Keller’s life?) We will be very surprised at how quickly our children catch on to the rules no matter which one. The important thing to remember is when a healthy child is told to stop and they do, there is usually no more behavior, they stop and look at us. While a child with Autism many times will stop, and immediately become agitated and act out in another way. Praise the children alike, or punish them in a way to accomplish the goal. If the child with Autism does not stop, gently take their hands (if this is possible with them, some it is and others it is not) or move into their vision and tell them again. Raising your voice or acting in frustration will only create more commotion.
You may have to spend more time correcting a behavior, but the child who does not have Autism will see many things in this exercise. First, you love them the same; second, rules apply for everyone; and three, you will not be bullied. All of these are very important, and remember to emphasis anytime you can that all of you are a family. You may be very surprised at how well this will work.
As children grow so will the problems with having a Special Needs Child, you can, and I hope, will use this to your advantage. The importance of family is the goal all during the growing up years. Events and special occasions that one child is excited and eagerly looking forward to, will become a stressor for the other. This same situation is what families go through every day; the difference is when the children are not special needs they express themselves differently. (Perhaps the holiday pageant is too much for the child with Autism, is a time when those friends and relatives are the help you need, ask for help. If the helper is a Grandparent, be sure to free up this grandparent next time around as grand parenting is an important role in our formative years.) Please do not think I am trivializing this, what I want you to come away with is children with Autism have all the same needs as any other child, the problem is the ability to express themselves. And children without Autism will accept and work with the peers to understand and accept their sibling. All you have to do is let them, don’t direct them, and let them at their own pace. Let them express their frustration, fear, excitement and challenge of having a sibling who is different, but loved by all.
If the child with Autism is comforted by having a small cloth to rub against the face, let them. This is their way of expressing comfort, if they want to eat at the table, they must do so with as little commotion as possible. I know you are so overwhelmed at this time, that you are thinking I don’t know if I can do this. You not only can but you will be great at it. Let others help when need be, seek counseling as needed and, stop and think before acting. You are a good parent and you will do just fine, no child comes with directions, just love them. Your other children will mirror your emotions and actions.
You must remember and model; this is a family in love and commitment. The family will follow, in those steps.