Monday, October 3, 2016
How I Told My Daughter That Her Brother Has Autism
Natalie was about six or seven when she first began noticing her brother's quirks. Before that, he was just another cool kid in the house to amuse her.
And then one day she asked me, "Why does Tommy flop on his bed over and over again?"
It's something he does to calm himself down. To calm his body down. Sometimes he says it feels like he has a bunch of prickles all over and the only way to get rid of them is slamming his body against his mattress repeatedly. I'm used to it. But to someone who has never seen something like it before, it can be a mystery.
I explained to Natalie that the motion calmed her brother down.
"Why does he hum weird sometimes?" she continued, eyebrows furrowed. "My friends have brothers and they don't do that."
Tommy has a hum he emits that is high-pitched. He does this randomly throughout the day, mostly when he's crashing on the bed.
"It helps him," I replied. "He does some things that might appear to be weird to you and I, but it's completely normal for him. Your brother has autism."
I explained what it was the best I could. I told her that it means he learns differently, that he sees and feels the world differently, but that's he's still smart.
"And funny!" Natalie chimed in. "He always yells at me to get out of his room."
Well. I'm glad that part amused her.
I always knew Tommy wouldn't have the same relationship with his sister like others do. For example, while some big brothers quickly step in when their sisters are upset, Tommy is all, "She probably deserves it. She's too loud." If he sees Natalie crying, he'll be like, "Stop. You're being dumb. Why do girls cry over everything?" I have to remind him that he needs to be a tad more sensitive but sometimes he forgets.
I managed to find some books on autism that explained things in a simpler way for Natalie.
Those books helped her realize that Tommy has some sensory issues--she understood it is why Tommy looks completely grossed out when we carve a pumpkin. He cannot stand the feeling of the pumpkin guts. "Your autism doesn't like this, huh?" Natalie asked.
She understands better now, at 9. She'll tell people, "I have a brother and he has autism. It means his brain is wired differently, and when he's done, he's done. But we love him so much!"
And she's right.