Asperger’s Syndrome and Siblings
I’ve written quite a lot about Asperger’s Syndrome over the past couple of years. I’ve written about how people with Asperger’s can be excessively honest, reliant on schedules, and can have trouble expressing their feelings. One thing I haven’t examined, though, is how those who are neurotypical react to those with Asperger’s. Specifically, how does Asperger’s affect the neurotypical siblings?
In many ways, NHL is three different ages. Years-wise, he is eleven. Intelligence-wise, he is twelve or thirteen (sometimes more). Socially and emotionally, though, NHL is often actually younger than his brother. At times, this means that the boys get together well – since NHL is operating at about the same level as his brother. Other times, though, JSL will get very frustrated with NHL.
When it comes to playing games or watching television, NHL will often dominate. He chooses what they watch/play, when, and has been known to alter the rules as he sees fit. He doesn’t mean to act like this, but the give and take that neurotypical people take for granted is hard for him. NHL can also focus on topics and talk about them long after the conversation should have ended. He doesn’t always realize that everyone isn’t always interested in what interests him. He also have trouble recognizing the line between playing hard and playing too hard. When the boys lightsaber fight (using pool noodle lightsabers), NHL will often get so into the game that he will hit his brother and me too hard. Thankfully, the soft foam means no injuries, but it still hurts. Finally, NHL can engage in some socially inappropriate behavior (verbal outbursts, bodily functions that should be done in private).
For the most part, JSL is patient. He will let his brother choose the television show and will (pretend) to listen as his brother talks about the latest video game developments. Recently, though, cracks have formed in JSL’s patient facade and he’s grown frustrated by his brother more and more often. His frustrations will spill over into yelling, hitting, and stomping. (And his teachers think he is so polite and quiet.) JSL has gone so far as to demand to be taken to his grandparents’ house so that he can escape his brother.
We try to give JSL some time away from his brother. We go on "date nights" where B and I each take one boy and head off to do something fun. This lets us bond with our kids and gives JSL some room to be himself without his brother around. Still, we can’t keep them apart all the time. During weeknights, with school the next day, having JSL sleep over his grandparents’ house isn’t an option.
Sadly, when you have a child with special needs, that child often demands more attention than your non-special needs child. In your quest to get everything your special needs kid requires, it can be easy to overlook a non-special needs child. The stress of living with their special needs sibling can take its toll, however. Never just assume that your children who don’t have special needs don’t require special attention themselves.
(By the way, when I asked JSL for him permission to write about this, he gave an excited shout and proclaimed "Now people will know what I have to put up with!")
NOTE: The Autism Awareness ribbon icon above was created by Melesse and comes from Wikimedia Commons.