Young children are so accepting. The most accepting generation. They see a person, another child, a friend, not a label and not a disability. It is so beautifully innocent how they accept each others differences without a second thought.
Tabitha has loved Franklin from the moment he was born. She doesn’t see autism, she sees Franklin.
She runs with him, jumps with him, headstands with him and she laughs with him. She joins in with all his ‘games’ as she sees them, sensory seeking acts as we know them. She plays with him, whether he wants to or not. She challenges him like any other big sister would do and should do. She doesn’t know that when Franklin is running around the house he is so on his own agenda, in his own world, because to Tabitha, they are running together.
Tabitha is only 7 so we haven’t dived into defining autism yet, but we have tried to explain elements of it in terms she understands and importantly, we always talk about autism in a positive light. We try and emphasise her special role in Franklin’s life and how she can help him learn. How she is his role model. It makes her feel special, helps her realise how wonderfully important she is to him.
I feel guilty every single day that Tabitha is missing out on some of her childhood. We can’t go to many places her friends go to, we can’t go on a plane or on a boat, we can’t ever be spontaneous, because that would overwhelm Franklin so everything we do needs to be planned and prepared for with military precision, way in advance. I just pray that when she’s older, she realises that she’s been given so much more. A unique childhood. A richer childhood. Autism has taught her the most important qualities at such a young age. It has taught her to be kind, to be accepting and to love unconditionally. She constantly displays such a caring and understanding nature to her brother. I’m so proud of her.
She often anticipates his needs and knows exactly what he is thinking. She will immediately pick up his cars or figures or numbers (hand comforters, they change regularly!) when he drops them as she knows it will stress him out. She will know when his trouser cuff is bothering him and instinctively pull it down. She will grab his hand when we are getting out of the car before he bolts. She often lays his cover out for him at home in his favoured position when she thinks he might need comfort from it, and she’ll leave him in peace while he does. Franklin is beyond lucky to have her as his big sister.
I know she will always have to make sacrifices for Franklin. I try to protect her from feeling it. We spend time with her without Franklin where we can indulge in something she wants to do, where it is just about her, just about her wants and needs. I take her on lots of playdates with her friends, her neurotypical friends, where Franklin and autism aren’t on the agenda. I also try and encourage special time for her and Franklin together. Time that doesn’t involve any of the usual demands, or stress, or tears. A time when they are both relaxed and can nurture their already adorable bond. I revel in watching them share an ice lolly. Tabitha always asks for one to share and it stings me to know she does this because she knows Franklin will engage with her while she has it. To see them equally excited and giggling happily together as they take turns, it’s one of the rare times you wouldn’t notice a single difference between them.
I’m not sure if Franklin knows Tabitha is his sister, or what a sister is yet, I also often wonder though if he knows i’m his mum. He might not know all of these things yet and he might not be able to tell us, but what I do know is he can hear and feel all the love, encouragement and support we give him every hour of every day.
It’s true what they say… if you want to know how to treat a child with autism, it’s pretty simple really, just look to their sibling and they will show you.