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What My Son's Autism Diagnosis Has Meant for His Siblings

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Five years ago my son, who was 4 at the time, was diagnosed with autism, ADHD, and generalized anxiety disorder. My mind raced with speculation and anticipation as to how my child’s life would be altered from that moment on. I worried about about the difficulties ahead of him and mourned the normalcy his life would lack from here.

In the midst of absorbing the shock, I had overlooked the impact on my other children. I had consumed myself so deeply in the changes ahead for my oldest, I had neglected the thoughts of what would change for my two youngest. Life going forward would be different, for all of us.

I held my breath as they all walked through the entryway of life with a sibling with disabilities and everything it would entail. They all learned together. I watched the sibling dynamic between all three gradually restructure naturally. The adaptability of the relationship unfolded in front of me.

Initially, I feared their exposure to my oldest son’s meltdowns born out of frustration to communicate his needs to us or feeling overwhelmed. But his siblings picked up on his emotions and learned to lend the gentleness and compassion he so desperately required in those moments. The airing of these raw emotions didn’t create the fear I braced for, but instead reinforced coping skills that have served them in all aspects of their own lives. The calming techniques passed to us from teachers and therapists helped all my children equally.

As we moved from appointment to appointment, I worried my other children would feel lost in the shuffle. Instead, patience and creativity flourished. Toiling away the hours in waiting rooms I watched new games grow from their imagination. I also learned to take those opportunities in all those waiting rooms to fall deep into conversation and make those windows of time become my chance to give them that the one-on-one attention that was often lacking at home. The lesson of making the most out of whatever time you have together was learned in the sterile plastic chairs of so many doctor’s offices.

The reality that a disability diagnosis would affect all of my children took time to sink in. I steadied myself for what I originally felt would short-change my other children. Guilt may have consumed me in the beginning as I thought of all that was about to change for them. I feared the adjustments I felt would undoubtably have a negative effect on my son’s siblings lives. Instead, I observed it morph into the facilitator to their acquisition of enduring compassion, patience and empathy.

I quickly watched, in beautiful awe, the adaptability and resiliency children possess. My younger children see their brother through the eyes of innocence. They have come to understand his differences and know they don’t change his worthiness. Their brother is simply their brother, embraced and loved for what makes him, him. They see through the complexities and struggles and treat him just the same as they treat each other. What I once saw as a fracture in their future together in actuality created a stronger bond.

Five years ago, I lamented that my oldest’s diagnosis was an arrow shot through the lifeline to his brother and sister. From my vantage point now, it is an anchor that holds them close through the highs and lows of life’s waves.

Getty mage by yaruta

Originally published: June 21, 2018
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