Tuesday, March 18, 2014

There's always room at the table: a look inside the eyes of supportive siblings

Little Miss M is eight years old. She has two younger sisters K-Bear and Baby-Z, five and almost two. Our house is constantly buzzing with the noise that only little girls (or screeching cats) can make. I too grew up at the oldest of three girls. I had constant built-in playmates and lifelong best friends. I was rarely bored and always playing something. This is not the case for my girls. We try to encourage them to play together, to engage, as this is a great skill. K-Bear is desperate for these interactions, she is a very socially typical little girl (although she does have some learning struggles), but Little Miss M has autism.

I'll be honest. I've had a problem with the diagnosis of autism from the very beginning and not for the reason that you would think. I have a problem with the diagnosis of autism because it covers such a broad spectrum of people. The word does not justice to describe what Little Miss M struggles with or what she excels at. Autism doesn't have a look, and it's nearly impossible to wrap your head around all that it means. I do believe this is in large part because so much is still unknown about autism and how the brain is truly affected. So, when I discuss our life with autism, I know it's not necessarily everyone else's experience.

Little Miss M is verbal, but she struggles with appropriate social cues. She prefers to play by herself most times instead of with others or to lose herself in her preferred electronics. K-Bear is the polar opposite when it comes to this. She wants to play with everyone, to make-believe and Mommy is not always the best substitute for a peer. Baby-Z is still too young to truly engage in reciprocal play, but K-Bear really wants to.

This came up the other morning. K-Bear went into her room and got two tiaras. She politely asked her sister to please play princesses with her. Little Miss M just said "No". Most days this is enough to set K-Bear off into pre-tantrum or full-out tantrum mode. However, we've been working really hard at talking about our emotions and dealing with them properly. I was proud today, because instead of just exploding, K-Bear came up with a new way to play. She perched all of her ponies around the table. She placed crowns on their heads. She gave each paper, crayons and a pretend slice of pizza. She left one seat open, just in case her sister decided to join in and then began an elaborate tea-party which was both wonderful to watch and sad at the same time.

What I learned from my five-year old however, was that she understands far more then she can express. She loves her sister, she wants to play with her sister, but she knows she cannot force that. Instead she has figured out how to latch on to the moments when Little Miss M is engaged and milk every last drop of fun out of them. I hope that this adoration and protection of her big sister continues as K-Bear gets older and that we are able to help her process all of the feelings that go along with the role she was born into.

Do you have a sibling story you'd like to share with us? Post it in the comments below.

Amanda really wanted to be invited to the Pony Tea-Party but she was informed she was too old!

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