Category Archives: Siblings

Toy Envy

We have been waist-deep in Birthday-Induced Toy Envy and Younger Brother Control Issues. Far be it for me to think that this problem might have abated by now, but apparently twelve- and thirteen-year-olds are just as susceptible. Only now they are bigger and hormonal. And they’re not embarrassed bickering in front of their friends.

For his birthday this past weekend, Aidan received a toy that has flown off the local toy store shelves: Transforming Wall-E. His father had purchased it a month earlier in LA and brought it up to Oregon for the party. Nigel fell in love with it, and Aidan exploited that by not letting Nigel hold it. This is difficult territory for me for several reasons.

  • I want Aidan to share, but I don’t want it to be forced.
  • He already accuses me of favoring Nigel.
  • Nigel can learn patience about getting to hold his brother’s new things, but I certainly can’t expect commendable behavior from him in the same sensory-overloaded situation.

So Nigel kept nagging and Aidan kept refusing and Nigel’s behavior was escalating, but I was distracted getting dinner ready for a bunch of adolescent boys and couldn’t intervene. Finally, I had them all sit at the kitchen table, hoping the pizza and root beer would be enough to distract Nigel, but it was too late. He was in meltdown mode, clenching his fists, gritting his teeth, and growling. “Nigel, relax and eat your pizza,” I calmly suggested. “RRRRRRAAAOORRRR!!!” he growled in the face of the boy seated next to him. Fortunately, I was nearby and was able to grab Nigel as he lunged at the poor boy (a wonderful family friend who has witnessed Nigel’s meltdowns before and still agrees to come to our home). I managed to walk Nigel to his room as he growled, hissed, and clawed at me, his eyes wide with a combination of rage and fear. I reminded him that he needed to calm himself before he could finish eating and hang with his friends, and then I went back to the kitchen to apologize.

The friend whom Nigel had roared and lunged at asked if Nigel was okay, bless his compassionate heart. I thanked him for being so understanding. When I went to check on Nigel about fifteen minutes later, he had shredded a file folder, but he was de-escalating. I could tell he wanted to rejoin his friends because he was lying on the floor on his back, with most of his body outside of his bedroom door, and he was quietly talking to himself. Five minutes later, he was running around with his friends, laughing.

The next day, he came to me and asked if I would buy him his own Wall-E toy. I told him that he could use his allowance to buy it, but that all the local stores were sold out, so we would need to order it online. He flopped down on the chair in my office and said, “They’re like a flying pack of locusts, taking everything they can get! If only they could let me have a chance!” This was said with much more emotion than his usual flat tone. “Who?” I asked. “The store customers?” “Yes!” said my son, victim of consumerism.

And Aidan, I’m happy to say, finally relented. Last night, the three of us were relaxing on the couch watching a movie. Nigel diplomatically requested to hold Wall-E for “only a minute.” Aidan gave him three. And all was well in my little corner of the universe.


Nigel is at Scout camp this week with his dad, which is something they did last summer that they enjoyed. I’m glad that his father was able to do it again with him. It allows them to have some one-on-one time, and now Aidan can have some one-on-one time with me.

One-on-one can be an elusive (my euphemism for nearly impossible) concept for single parents, especially any whose other parent lives seven hundred miles away. But one-on-one time with parents is so important for kids. It makes them feel like a priority when their parents have carved out time for them, and it teaches them to do the same for people in their lives as they get older. In special needs families, the typically-developing children often feel like they are fending for themselves because their parents need to spend so much time tending to the needs of their sibling, going to therapy appointments, doing damage control. Often, the siblings take on some of the damage control themselves, or they take on more responsibility around the house. Aidan has on several occasions told me that he feels like the older brother, even though he’s younger. He’s had to explain his brother’s behavior many times to peers, and has done so with patience and respect. I have extolled his virtues and those of other siblings in a previous post, and I will continue to.

So this week is Aidan’s week. We are watching all six of the Star Wars movies, one each night, and today I rented a video game for him that he had a lot of fun with (Lego Indiana Jones). We bought a pint of raspberry sorbet for dessert, and we made plans to go river rafting on Saturday. As we sat on the couch tonight watching our movie (we’re on Episode 2), he leaned up against me and began gently, methodically scrunching handfuls of my hair in his palm. He has done this for years, I think as a bonding ritual that appeals to his tactile sensitivity. After a minute of doing so, he said, “I’m so happy to be able to squeeze your hair again, Mom.” I told him I’m glad he can do it again too. I’ve missed it, among many other things.

Brotherly Love

Aidan left Monday morning for four days at ROS (Resident Outdoor School) at a camp about an hour away in the mountains. Tonight they are having family night there, when all the parents and siblings are invited to the campfire program. As I dropped Aidan off at school Monday morning, I told him I’d see him Wednesday night for the program.

Aidan: Is it just you coming?

Me: No, Nigel’s coming, too. I don’t want to leave him alone that long when I’m not close enough to come home quickly if there’s a problem.

Aidan: Then don’t come at all! I don’t want Nigel there!

I didn’t want to force the issue. Aidan was probably looking forward to some time away from his brother, time when he didn’t have to think about how his brother was acting and how it might easily embarrass him. It must be hard to be eleven and to be concerned about that so often.

So I went home and got Nigel up for homeschool. I started to prepare breakfast.

Nigel: You took Aidan for ROS this morning?

Me: Yes. He’ll be back Thursday afternoon.

Nigel: Yes! Three and a half days without the pesky little brother!

Nigel then proceeded to somersault throughout the house in jubilation. So much for brotherly love. I suppose I should be glad that there are some things about his development that are entirely typical.

Sibling Angst


Aidan: Why the heck, Nigel, is your stick in my room?

I overheard Aidan say this last night as I was walking down the hall, and I empathized. I, too, have found Nigel’s sticks in many places throughout the house, including the kitchen, the living room, the car, my desk, and my bed. Nigel’s stick obsession has probably been lifelong, and to the best of my knowledge, neither he nor anyone around him has ever lost an eye, thank God. I’m not sure where this obsession stemmed from, but it’s most assuredly not abating any time soon. And I bet one of the things he loves about Scouts is being able to handle sticks on a regular basis.

But the real reason I’m writing this post tonight is to highlight Aidan. He’s been feeling a little like second fiddle lately, aware of all the writing I’ve been doing about Nigel on this site, even though I’m careful to minimize the screen when he (Aidan) comes in the room. He’s been pretty verbal about his feelings, too, accusing me of going easy on Nigel and not being fair, playing favorites. I try to spend as much alone-time with Aidan as possible, let him know how loved and important he is, but I can imagine it must be so hard for him. What’s not fair is that he’s the younger brother and he always feels like the older brother. What’s not fair is that as much as I try to ease the difficulty of him having a brother with special needs, it’s still there. And it always will be.

Siblings are the unsung heroes of the special needs realm. Parents, therapists, caregivers, and teachers are openly praised – and deservedly so – for all their efforts with those they work with and care for. But the siblings are not often highlighted, and they should be. Some siblings have had to share a room for years and learned to tolerate and sleep through the noises and habits of someone who doesn’t talk, or whose speech is echolalic. Some siblings have gone to the same school and had kids come up to them, many times, to say, “Did you hear what your brother did today?” And in spite of all that and so much more, they take it in stride and learn to love this person who seems so different and strange and often annoying. The siblings know that even if they’d like to poke their autistic brothers in the eye with the very sticks they leave in their rooms, it’s just another thing they’ll have to live with, and they do. Maybe not without exasperation, but with acceptance nonetheless.

Aidan, I’m so proud of you.

The Autism Club

When I was in high school I had a good friend I’ll call Eddy. Eddy and I were in several of the same classes since freshman year, and by junior year, we had become pretty close. We never dated, but we talked a lot, and one day during class he ran out, visibly upset, and the teacher suggested I go check on him. I found him sitting on the steps of the side entrance of the building, and I sat next to him and gave him a hug. He told me that he was coming to terms with the fact that he was gay. He didn’t know how to tell anyone; he felt confused and a little scared. I assured him I would be there for him.

Months later, Eddy felt better and more sure of himself. His family had responded positively to the news and his friends supported him. He said that he couldn’t believe that it was happening to him. He had read and heard about people being gay, but until he acknowledged that he was, he never realized what it would be like, how it would affect him. He said that he felt like now he belonged to The Gay Club. And that it would determine the rest of his life.

I certainly didn’t feel it at first, but over the years I have come to realize that with my son’s diagnosis I was granted lifetime membership in The Autism Club. I had read and heard about autism, but I had no idea what it was like until, through him, it became present in my life. I never realized how that would affect our whole family.

I’m sure it’s the same for any parent of a child with a disability. You start going to all the IEP meetings, the team meetings with therapists, the therapy appointments, dealing with trying to take your child out in public, finding a good fit with a program or school and changing frequently when it doesn’t fit. You come to terms with how the disability affects all the family members, now and in the future. You realize that your lives are going to be different than those of your neighbors, and even your friends. You wonder how it will affect your other child, having a special needs sibling.

So you go to the meetings, you do what you need to do, you give attention and show empathy to your other child, and somehow, as the years go by you realize that you are functioning, you are doing this. Life goes on. It’s different, it’s not how you thought it would be, not what you would have wished for yourself and your children, but it’s okay.

Some might think I’m trivializing the experience by calling it The Autism Club. It is in no way trivial, and I know that only too well. It affects me deeply. I realize that I’m not the one who lives with it, but I am connected for life to the one who does. There are millions of parents of autistic kids, all going through what I go through. And that makes me feel like we’re all part of some special club or association. We didn’t ask to join. But we’re making the best of it. And it’s good to know that we’re not alone.