Today I was thinking about what having an autistic child has meant in the lives of my other six children. Initially upon Kyle’s diagnosis I believe I had some concern for his siblings. What if they have to endure frustration, disappointment, and even ridicule because of their brother? Would friends reject them because, “Your brother is weird?” Or might they resent him if he required extra attention from me?
Whatever concerns I might have had in the early phases of diagnosis have long since disappeared. There is no doubt that Kyle’s existence in our family has been a gift to each of his brothers and sisters. Here are some lessons they’ve learned through their daily interactions with a special-needs brother:
1. Mom’s (or Dad’s) love is unconditional. Watching their parents show affection toward their brother can bring lasting peace of mind. “I can have faults or challenges, and my parents will still love me.”
2. Nobody is perfect, and I don’t have to be. Their brother struggles with some things that are simple for them, like conversational language. But he is still happily involved in his life’s routines. “I might not be a good piano player, but I have other talents that make me a special person.” “I can forgive myself when I make mistakes.”
3. Disabled people are human too, and deserve my respect and compassion. Children with a developmentally delayed sibling see firsthand the tears, laughter, and daily frustrations that accompany the disability. They also see how normal things can be. They are less fearful of other disabled people. They can empathize and feel compassion.
4. Some people in this world are cruel, and I need to protect and defend the innocent. My oldest son once reported to me that he saw a mentally handicapped boy being teased in the halls at school. “I thought of Kyle and I got angry. I told them to stop.”
5. Not everyone learns as quickly as I do, and I might need to be more understanding or patient with those that struggle. I notice that my step daughter’s voice becomes more soothing and calm when she speaks to Kyle. I often hear her and my other children patiently taking the time to explain things to him.
These are just a handful of examples. But ultimately I could not have asked for a better teacher for my children than their brother Kyle. There are many things they will learn in their lifetimes, but some of the greatest lessons about love and life have come from the experience of having an autistic brother.