A friend wrote to me yesterday to ask my advice. She recently made the decision to disclose her son’s disability to his sister and she was looking for any helpful hints I might have from my own experience.
I don’t think my advice was quite what she expected.
Just over a year and what feels like a lifetime ago, I had ‘the autism talk’ with Katie. It was not long before last year’s Autism Speaks Walk and it became obvious to me that we needed to address the issue with her.
As we sat over yet another game of Disney Princess kill me now not this again Monopoly, we chatted about some of her sister’s particular characteristics, behaviors and challenges and the fact that there happened to be a name for them collectively. We talked about what it meant to support her little sister (and other children like her) and why we believe so fully in supporting research and advocacy and awareness efforts. We talked about what it means to have autism, or, as I put it then, to be autistic.
Shortly thereafter, Katie began to make connections. A couple of days after our conversation, Brooke got ‘stuck’ in a perseverative circle. Who knows what it was after all this time, but you know the routine. She repeated the same sentence for ten minutes straight. Katie looked at me knowingly and said, “Mama, it’s OK. That’s because of her being artistic.”
I couldn’t help it; I laughed. And the poor kid looked so confused when I did. “What on earth is funny, Mama? This is serious! Brooke is artistic! We have to help her. And all those poor other kids who are artistic too. We need to help raise money for them.” She looked so earnest.
And I’m wondering, ‘Does she think we’re organizing a walk to buy paint brushes? Canvases? Easels? For all those poor artistic kids who need our help?
So, if you’re looking for help disclosing your child’s challenges to a sibling, I offer you the one word of advice that I offered to my friend.