Friday, July 11, 2008

Children Do What We Do--to Siblings

I have a fuzzy but distinct recollection of a print in my house growing up of Children Learn What the Live not unlike the one pictured here. I associate it with my mom who was a teacher and with the values she upheld in our household. I don't know what ever became of that poster but apparently the original poem was written in 1954 by Dorothy Law Nolte and was later made into an entire book about parenting and imparting values. At first glance it may seem hokey, but whatever your aesthetic, there is undeniable truth in the verse.

Children of all ages do learn more from what we do as parents than from what we ever say. It is not coincidence that many of the parents blogging about autism from a positive, accepting perspective have children who in turn, are learning and articulating gratitude and acceptance of their siblings. Here are two examples.

S.L. at Stop Think Autism uses a subtitle I love: "Having autism is not the end of the world...far from it." Her older child made a lucky clover at school and filled in the blank that she was "lucky to have.... a sister with autism." Her post embellishes how it really is possible to have healthy siblings in the same household with our kids on the spectrum. What's impossible is to "sell it too well" as her husband jokes about promoting autism as part of their unique family culture.

We bought that very same book she references, My Friend Has Autism, and gave them out as favors at Reid's 7th birthday party for our friends to read. My feeling was always that the more family friends who embraced our entire family, the better off we'd all be. That meant less embarrassment for my daughter, more informed playmates for my son, and more adults to support my daughter in awkward situations. These were sure to arise since we were spending lots of time homeschooling and going on fieldtrips with these families. I really needed them to back me up and bolster my intentional attitude at that point.

Estee at Joy of Autism (which is a great title I wish I could claim!) shares an essay written by her 16 year old son in gratitude for his little brother who has autism. Among the same homeschooling families we saw so often when the kids were 7ish,
were some slightly older, typically developing peers who would come over for facilitated playdates with Reid every week. Using Pamela Wolfberg's Integrated Playgroups model, they were modeling social skills, turn taking, eye contact, and the pure pleasure of play. Looking back with 7 years of hindsight, there is no question those "expert players" who were willing or whose moms made them participate, learned more than Reid did.

One of them recently graduated from high school--now a big, strapping football player. In a senior essay he reflected about what he'd learned from helping Reid over the course of 2 years. He was the oldest in a family of four and set the pace for his next oldest sister and brother to move into roles of regular weekly playdates with Reid. The youngest in that family never got his turn, as Reid moved into an all day school setting. But, little Carson used to ask, "when do I get to play with Reid?" Caring, encouragement, praise, acceptance and tolerance (see the poem) were what those kids were living! Those were esteemed values in the Ward family...and left a legacy of confidence, appreciation, love, and patience in our hearts as well as theirs.

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. Proverbs 17:16-18

Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Deuteronomy 11:18-20

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:1-3

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