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September 5, 2015 / 21 Elul, 5775
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Life Lessons From Raising An Autistic Child (Part V)

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Still, she loves him very much. I remember once, several years ago, after Menachem had ripped up something of hers, I made the mistake of excusing him by saying he’s not very smart. My daughter got furious at me. “Don’t call him stupid!” she yelled. “Menachem’s not stupid! He’s very, very smart.”

Then there’s my three-year-old, and the relationship here is problematic. She’s terrified of her brother; when he walks into the room, she runs into a corner, cowering.  She sees him as this massive monster, and with good reason. Menachem has learned that in a world that is so inexplicable, where so many things happen to him and he doesn’t understand how or why, this is one area where he can be in control. He knows that he can always provoke a reaction in his sister just by touching her, and he takes advantage of this power. Obviously, we protect her as much as we can, but we also try to make her understand who Menachem is. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’re doing a very good job at it. We’ll tell her, “He’s your brother and really, he loves you.” But she’s smarter than that. She responds, “No he doesn’t; he hurts me.”

I have no doubt that, as she grows older, she will understand, but this relationship concerns me because it’s starting from such a negative place.

What’s it like living in a family with a special needs child? My daughters know that they can’t bring friends over when Menachem’s home. My seven-year-old’s best friend runs away whenever she sees Menachem coming in. My older daughter knows that when Menachem’s home, she can’t ask us for help with homework. She simply has to understand that everything else in the household stops when her brother’s around. Is it fair? No, probably not. But this is what Hashem gave to our family, and I believe that our daughters understand this, and because they do they’re not resentful.

At least, I hope so.

 

The mother’s story:

Raising children, even normally developing ones, is a tricky business. As parents, we’re called upon to make so many chinuch decisions everyday – which approach is better suited for my child’s personality? Which will lead to more overall growth?

On the subject of how much to expect of my oldest, I disagree with my husband. Of course, in an ideal world, it would be wonderful if my daughter happily took care of Menachem, and also prepared dinner every night and folded the laundry. But, since we’re talking about normal children, something has to give. Personally, I feel that, if I had to choose, I’d much rather my daughter have a positive relationship with Menachem than anything else. And if she has that, the feeling of responsibility towards him will naturally kick in as she matures.

And she really does love him. One summer, when we took advantage of Menachem being at a camp to take a two-day family vacation, my daughter was very upset with us for going away without her brother. “He’s part of the family, too!” she cried indignantly.

Does she have any grasp of what it really means to take care of Menachem? Probably not. But I think that’s healthy. If a family was in a dire financial situation, would it be appropriate for the children to know all the stressful ins and outs of the family finances? My daughter sees him as her cute brother, not as a burden. True, she knows she can’t have friends over to play once he’s home, but she accepts that as part of our family life, and her friends accept it as well.

For me, my goal is that my kids feel that they’re part of a normal family life, that my children have a positive, loving relationship with their brother. And, baruch Hashem, according to those measures, I think we’ve been successful.

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