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Challenge: Raising Siblings

Explaining autism to a little brother

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“Mommy, why Charlie pushing me away?”

Jude’s been asking a lot of questions about Charlie lately:

“Mommy, why Charlie doesn’t want to play with me?” “Mommy, why Charlie pushing me away?” “Mommy, why Charlie can’t talk?”

I don’t know that I have found a good answer to his questions yet. I’ve told him Charlie has autism, but what does that even mean to a 3-year-old? Probably not much. I’ve also explained that Charlie has different abilities and different needs than his other friends and that Charlie does love him even though he doesn’t say it or show it. That seemed to make sense to Jude, at least a little.

Benefits of having an autistic brother

While it breaks my heart to see Jude sad when Charlie rejects him, I also see all the amazing ways in which having Charlie as a big brother has a positive impact on Jude. He seems to accept differences in people in the most natural way. He’s compassionate and always wants people around him to be happy. He’s the kind of child who comes to you and ask if you’re okay if you look sad. Jude always sticks by Charlie, even when Charlie pushes him away. I have the feeling Jude will be a loyal friend, the kind of friend I’d want to have who’d stick it out during the good and bad and who’d communicate with you when an issue arose – a patient, loving, and understanding friend. I love the way Jude understands that certain situations are overwhelming for Charlie even if they’re not overwhelming to him. Like when things get too loud, Jude covers Charlie’s ears with his chubby little cupped hands to block out the noise.

Celebrating small victories

Maybe I’m biased about this but Jude seems mature for his age. I get teary eyes when he runs to me screaming, “mommy!! Charlie said hi to me,” with his trademark enthusiasm, proud of his big brother and happy that Charlie said something to him. That pride he feels when Charlie overcomes a challenge, I know too. It warms up my whole body. I think Jude sees how we celebrate every milestone with Charlie, and he’s picked up on that and celebrates with us.

Admittedly, I’m far from being the perfect mom. I’m a mess half (most?) of the time, I arrive late to school more often than I’m on time, I ask Jude to pour Charlie his juice when I’m feeling lazy, I don’t make my kids kale smoothies nearly enough, and I even sometimes lock myself in the closet, music blasting in my ears, just to get some alone time. We must be doing some things right, though, because my two little guys are pretty extraordinary.

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