A family is about support. You’re reminded me of this greatly when you have a non-verbal child with autism. So much of our lives are spent trying to make his path easier to navigate and giving him everything he can possibly need. Whether emotionally, socially, or financially, we want to help him in every way possible. No matter the situation, it’s our jobs, as his loved ones, to make sure he’s happy.
Support, however, isn’t a one-way street and it isn’t an action solely given to people with autism or something deemed a “challenge” by those outside our world. We may raise awareness and work to make ourselves a part of his life, but he’s also a part of ours. Helping him out isn’t just about us doing things for him. It’s also about teaching him to do things for us.
That’s easy to lose in translation. A special event coming up might produce the type of worry that only the parent to a child prone to occasional outbursts can understand. My daughter, excited about an upcoming school concert, eagerly comes home with tickets for each one of us to attend. As she hands them out, it’s easy to look at them and wonder if we should keep Lucas home.
If I’m being honest, there was a time where we might have. As he grew and our understanding of autism grew with it, there were definitely moments where we underestimated his importance to events like this. Partially due to the concern that he might interrupt the day and partially due to our ignorance of how much his sister wanted him there, we would split the family up. He might miss it due to the misplaced thought that it was the right thing to do.
Today, we realize it’s not. Olivia is steadfast that she wants her little brother, potential echoing claps and all, to attend all of our proudest moments. There’s no part of her that fears how he will be perceived or judged. As a sister, she couldn’t be better. To put it frankly, her request that he support her is the most supportive gesture she could give.
So, we go. We go to the school concerts and plays. Most times, my little man is perfect. Sometimes, he’s not. When he’s not, though, I work to keep him calm. We don’t run from the room or hide in the hallway. We find the most calming area of the auditorium, whether in the back or off to the side, and watch the production unfold. Unless he is creating a commotion so distracting that it takes away from the show for everyone, we stay in that room.
My daughter makes sure we do too. Sitting on the floor of that gym and Greco-Roman wrestling my boy to keep him from running away and screaming, we’ll look up to see her peering over her shoulder at us. She checks to make sure we haven’t left and, when she sees we haven’t, she gives us a smile that speaks volumes. She’s proud of her brother, proud of herself, and wants him to be there for her best moments.
His favors to us don’t end with events like that. Even in the home, he’s taught to be a part of the group rather than the recipient of all our assistance. Sometimes it’s a manufactured gesture, but it’s there to teach him what’s right and show others that he’s trying.
Olivia’s dental surgery was the perfect opportunity for that. Stuck in bed with nothing but soft foods to comfort her, my girl was mostly miserable. As her dad, I wanted to show her my own form of support and went out to buy every mushy treat known to man. From Hershey’s pudding to mac-and-cheese, my cart runneth over. I rushed home to deliver it.
When I did and she asked for a bowl of Jell-O, I could have brought it to her myself. I almost did until Lucas, in his adorable astronaut blanketsleeper, came shuffling into the kitchen. I looked down, smiled, squeezed his cheeks, and told him, “Come here. Follow me.”
We walked to the hallway and I handed him the Jell-O pack and a spoon. Then, I gestured towards his sister’s room, and slowly told him.
Bring this to Olivia. Go ahead.
I stayed in the hallway as his pint-sized body trotted into her doorway with his hands extended. I made sure to stay out of sight but could hear her.
Oh…thank you, Lucas!
Despite her mouth pain, her voice was sweeter than it had ever been. When he came wobbling back out, he had a huge smile on his face. It felt like a parenting victory…and I wasn’t even involved in it.
Supporting my son is the most important thing in my life. Then again, supporting my daughter is too. It’s my job to make sure they learn to support one another to the best of their abilities. Whether it’s through routine family functions, daily activities, or, one day, something much more, they need each other in their lives. I want them to know that they are both loved and neither of them is an afterthought or a burden. They’re both loved much more than words can ever say.
JG Note: Proud to announce that I have started contributing blog posts to Autism Speaks, as well as here on Hi Blog! I am so grateful for the chance to share my family with the world and for the support that so many of you have offered. More big news is on the way. Thank you! You can check out my first post here: “My son may be different, but we’re all different”