There was a Blog Carnival going last September on the theme of Sensational Siblings. I’ve been reading the link-ups…posts about how siblings in these families are so supportive of their special needs brothers and sisters, guiding and loving, being gentle, understanding, sacrificing…a lot of the time anyway. The bonds of family overcome the challenges. Here are my thoughts…
When I first read several of these posts, I was sad, because that’s not how I feel it is for our family, yet. First, we don’t have an older sibling being a good example for our SPD child. Our SPD child is the older sibling, and he has little understanding of his own challenges. Inappropriate reactions have become the example for two younger ones. They watch. They listen. Then they try it, too (and if you’ve read much of my blog, you know that “inappropriate reactions” means lots of explosions, and all the loveliness that entails). How do you explain to a four year old that his older brother doesn’t have the skills to handle a certain situation well, but he (the four year old) does (or should)? There are different levels of expectations, not only for age difference, but abilities aside from differing ages (if that makes sense). In addition, the issues and challenges of the oldest have taken center stage for so long, that time and effort for guiding and redirecting the younger two has been lax.
J. was 18 months old when B. was born. I thought it was because he was so young, but I’ve been thinking more lately on how J. responds socially…he pretty much ignored B. for the first year or so. Every now and then he would put a rattle in his lap or something, but it was a very brief interaction. There was none of that “help mommy with the baby” type of stuff. As B. got older, he would follow J. around, copy him, and play next to him. Then they became a unit of noisy activity, requiring much maintenance (boy were those few years ever exhausting). They did everything together – meals, snacks, baths, same bedtime, same play activities. When B. got to be about three years old, he started to separate into his own identity with his own favorite toys, likes and dislikes. They still played together every day, but we could see individual-ness emerging from the double-trouble-chaos.
Now B. is almost five, and J. six and a half. This is what I noticed in the past year…B. will say J.’s name repeatedly to get his attention and J. ignores him completely. Enough that B. is screeching through clenched teeth and I intervene to say J. your brother is trying to tell you something. If you don’t want to talk right now, you need to say “B. I don’t want to talk right now.” instead of just ignoring him. Many times they will get started playing something, and within ninety seconds J. drops it and walks away to look for something else to do with no explanation. B. is just getting amped up to play something fun with his brother and then all of a sudden his playmate is stalking off and won’t talk to him anymore. Umm, J.? Did you tell your brother that you’re not playing outside anymore? He’s still out there waiting for you…and then B. comes slumping in with a droopy, lonely, slouchy walk that we have dubbed “The Charlie Brown.” J. often goes from one thing to the next without finishing, but B. doesn’t understand that this is tied in with J.’s issues. They do still play together a lot…but there’s also an increase in B. you need to stay away from J. right now, because he’s having a bad day. If you get too close I’m concerned he might hit you. Does he understand where this comes from? I don’t think so. And I wonder if, at some point, B. is going to level up with, or even pass, his older brother in daily functioning skills.
J. was two months shy of turning four when little L. was born. I think he responded to L. more than he had to B. as a newborn, but there still wasn’t a lot of interaction, and even less participation helping with the baby. Maybe that’s a brother thing. I get the impression, from watching my nieces, and friends’ daughters, that their instinct to be little mommies starts young. They want to help with everything and go so far as to call the baby their baby. My boys didn’t do that. They each fed L. a couple of bottles when he was about a year old, and dumped some water on him during a few baths…but I think that was it. It’s only been in the last year that J. will say he’s going to play specifically with L.
Even with all the finicky social response, and witnessing many an out-of-control explosion, B. and L. miss J. when he’s at school and get excited for him to come home and play again. They follow him around. They think he’s funny. They are little brothers…which is awesome…until two year old L. stands before me scowling and yelling “stupid-dumb-darnit, I going to PUNCH you! I don’t CARE!” Because he’s seen his big brother do this very same thing many (many) times. ugh.
And yes, it is a lot on our plates to have J.’s issues to deal with, and then the needs of an additional two younger children to boot. Oh the mommy guilt, that I haven’t been able to do more than the minimum for them at times. I saw someone post on an SPD message board once, asking for input on whether or not to have more children after finding that their first had sensory problems. We didn’t know J. was going to be diagnosed with SPD until after our family was complete, but I would not change that. I couldn’t tell you how many times, after a really tough day with J., the stress of SPD and who knows what else hanging heavily on me…that I was blessed so much by having L. throw his little toddler arms around my neck to give me a squeezing hug, or by B. saying something really nice to me out of the blue. When SPD kicks my bucket over, B. and L. start putting some drops in it again. And I need that.
So maybe we’ll get there. I’m going to say it. We will get there. I don’t know when, but someday, these boys will have understanding and awareness of what J. is struggling so much with. Maybe I have it backwards. Maybe I need to let go of the notion that J. is firstborn and needs to set precedence, and embrace the idea that his little brothers will be a source of guidance for him to follow.