Rapunzel and Pascal: Understanding Special Needs Siblings

 “Hey Mom, Ezra and I go to the same school! But Ezra rides on a little bus and you drop me off in the car. Did you know that I only have one teacher, but Ezra has a bunch of teachers? And did you know that I walk at school and Ezra rides in a red buggy? It’s like we’re the same, but different!  …Can I dress as Rapunzel for Fall Fest and can Ezra be Pascal? Cause He’s my lil buddy…”

This was the mostly one sided conversation I had this week while riding in the car with my five year old little girl, Grace, in regards to her brother. I kissed my sweet girl on the forehead as I pulled up to the school to let her out and watched as she bounced her way into the building. As I drove off, her words continued to play in my mind. Although said in complete innocence, my little girl’s words were very telling of how she is beginning to understand the differences between her and her little brother.

“It’s like we’re the same, but different!”  … Wow, very well said! Grace is very slowly beginning to understand more and more about her brother and this thing called Autism.

This has been an interesting process to watch. I know for myself, and for my husband, we are still figuring out life on the Autism journey. There have been feelings of grief and loneliness as well as feelings of great joy and thankfulness. So, can you possibly image how a young sibling would process the fact that their brother/sister has Autism?

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog titled Talk About Us Behind Our Back. The idea behind the blog post was to encourage parents to explain to their children about special needs kids so that they might better understand how to treat them, react to them, and be their friend. I never dreamed that I would receive the response that I did. Remember, I asked you to talk behind our backs…but what I got were many emails, text messages, phone calls, and conversations. Most parents had the same question: What should I tell my kid about Autism? Or How should I go about explaining to my child about Ezra and kids like him?

Well, I’m no counselor and I am certainly no Autism expert. I am just a mom! But I would be happy to share with you what we have told Grace about her baby brother, Ezra.

Grace knows that her brother “struggles” sometimes. Grace knows that sometimes he acts differently, spits, has odd head movements, and very little language. These are all things that Grace has observed about Ezra. We have simply explained to her that -Yes, Ezra does act differently and he does struggle sometimes. We have also explained that it’s ok to be different and that God makes everyone very special and that He has a plan and a purpose for everyone no matter what. Yes, we have occasionally dropped the word “Autism” to Grace but you see, Autism is not who Ezra is, so we don’t really focus on this term with Grace as of yet. As Grace gets older, I expect for there to be harder questions and harder answers. From Grace’s astute observations in the car this past week, I can tell that she is putting the pieces together. She is gradually becoming aware of what it means to have a special needs sibling.

As Grace gets older, I watch her become more and more protective, understanding, and motherly in the way that she interacts with her brother. I often times have to remind her that she does not have to be the mommy or the therapist…just be the sister! I am thankful for the sweet heart that she has. She loves her “Ezra Brother” very much.

I ask the Lord often for wisdom and discernment when it comes to balancing a “neurotypical” child and a child with Autism. I want to explain things to Grace, but I do not want to overwhelm her. So, I concentrate most on helping Grace not to understand Autism, but to understand Ezra. I show her ways to connect with him, play with him, and love on him. I let her know that she is always welcome to ask questions. Questions are good. Questions breed knowledge, knowledge breeds understanding, and understanding dispels fear and brings forth relationship.

I will answer Grace’s questions as they come. In the meantime, I am interested in her innocent little observations. I am so thankful for the caring spirit she has with Ezra. I am thankful that she would even think to ask “Can I dress as Rapunzel for Fall Fest and can Ezra be Pascal? Cause He’s my lil buddy!” How cool is that?

Best Buddies waiting for Ezra's school bus!

Best Buddies waiting for Ezra's school bus!

All dressed up for Western Days at school last week! This was Ezra's first time to wear boots...he wasn't too sure about them!

All dressed up for Western Days at school last week! This was Ezra's first time to wear boots...he wasn't too sure about them!