DR RADICA MAHASE
GROWING up with a sibling with autism can be very challenging. Usually, as siblings grow older they tend to understand their special brother/sister better. But at a younger age, it can be difficult for a child to understand autism and why his/her brother/sister is different, gets more attention or is treated in a special way. Often it is up to parents to help the siblings develop a healthy relationship.
Here’s Alexia’s perspective:
“Hello everyone, my name is Alexia and I am seven years old. My little brother’s name is Alex and he is five years old. My little brother has autism. For those of you who don’t know autism is something that is special. People with autism are special. They are different. They do not look different but inside they feel different. Sometimes I feel sad for my brother with autism. I feel sad because I want him to have a chance and to make friends who love him. His friends at school do not play with him. He plays by himself and that makes me feel sad. I just want him to have friends who play with him and make time to make him feel like everybody else.
"It was a little difficult for me to understand and accept my brother before because I didn’t understand him when he spoke to me. Now he is better and I can understand him. He gets a lot of attention and I feel left out sometimes. He gets so much attention because he is autistic. He gets his way and gets to play with any toys he wants. He is autistic and younger so he gets his way. I don’t know why he has autism but it is okay.
"I am happy that he’s around. I want him to be happy. I love Alex. Now Mommy buffs him sometimes. She didn’t before. But now she treats him almost like she treats me (she says this with a huge wicked smile). Sometimes it’s hard for me to deal with all the attention that he gets. Why is he more special than me? When Alex cries is trouble for me. Most times I get in trouble. Sometimes I do bad things but not all the time. It’s also hard for me to see Alex alone in the playground in school. Kids play with him in the play park but why don’t they play with him in school? But he is still a very happy boy.
"Anyways, I love that I have him. I love him because he is company for me. We can play together all of the time. I am glad to have him in my life. Mommy says when she and Daddy die I will have Alex and we will be each other’s family. And when we get older I wish that he gets a job, money, a house, food and a family. I wish that people will treat him nice and he would get a chance to be Alex, and that will be okay, you know.”
Rebecca, Alexia’s mommy, said, “I learnt to listen to Alexia. I had assumed that she will figure it out and she will survive and that I needed to focus my energy on Alex.
"But somewhere along I realised that she is a child and she has feelings too. Her main issue was that there was dedicated time and attention given to her and once I understood that it made a big difference. I realised that the whole family life wasn’t around autism; autism was a part of it, but it was not everything. And I needed to maintain an element of equality between them. I needed to understand that not because one of my children is autistic he should get to be mean or get away with things. Alexia helped me to realise that.
"I constantly explain things to her, that Alex needs his therapy, extra support system, so she’s generally good with it all now, once they are treated equally.
"Other than this they are inseparable, extremely mischievous and always together. Their relationship has grown and there is a deep love. She understands him more, she appreciates him. She’s very good at identifying when he needs the attention and she doesn’t have a problem with that. She is part of that process of keeping him calm – if he needs a hug to calm down, we all hug him. They can’t do without each other.”
Dr Radica Mahase is the founder/director, Support Autism T&T