over the last few days, I have had the pleasure of speaking to the moms of awesome autistics who are about to be or already are the older sibling to their family’s new addition.
introducing our awesome autistics to their new sibling(s) can be difficult at times, so big A and I are going to share our personal experience with you. hopefully these tips will help build and/or strengthen the bond between your beautiful children.
#1: allow them to get acquainted early
one of the best decisions I made when it came to big A and little A getting to know each other was involving big A during the pregnancy. he would come to ultrasounds with me and listen to his sister’s heartbeat. if I had appointments while he was in school, I would show him the pictures and let him see how she’d grown and changed since the last time he saw her. when my bump developed, he would lay on top of my stomach and feel her move around in my tummy. once he started trying to read (because he was nonverbal for a long time, check out our post on nonverbal awesome autistics here), I explained to him that she could hear us when we talked to her. so he would read stories to her and sing songs to her, it was the absolute sweetest!
**for all my 90s babies that are now parents, remember the lullaby Stu and DiDi (and later Tommy) sang to Dil in the Rugrats movie?? that was big A’s favorite song to sing to little A. and because I am who I am, I cried every single time – my heart burned with love for my babies.
by the time she was born, big A was telling people that he was her daddy and that he needed to take care of her. he’d ask me “can I hold my baby?”, “can I feed my baby” and when other people would hold her tell them “you can hold her but you have to be careful, that’s my baby”. I can say without a doubt, the best thing I ever did for my little humans was introducing them to one another early on.
#2: introduce them to similar things
I am an advocate for educational programs, and purchased many dvd/mobile apps/learning devices for big A when he was learning. so when little A was ready to start learning, I had so many of the tools I had used with big A. Backyardigans would get both my little humans up and moving, and big A and little A were able to bond as he ‘taught‘ her all the songs he remembered from his toddler years. despite the six year gap between them, they both watch similar shows: Paw Patrol, Sesame Street, Team Umizoomi, LeapFrog, Jurassic Park, etc. little A would sometimes refuse to watch a show or movie without her brother’s company and, because big A thrives when he feels appreciated and needed, he was always up for the task. he would come to me and say “we’re going to watch Backyardigans while I babysit little A downstairs okay!”; then proceed to put her in the playpen and position her in front of the television.
**one time (unbeknownst to me until after the fact) he took a lighter and burned a hole in the netting of her playpen because he said “she needed a bigger hole so she could see better”, gotta love the kid’s innovative spirit
I also made sure to introduce them to the same hobbies: painting, playdoh, drawing/coloring, hiking, biking, skating, swimming, etc. big A, being the person that he is, loved being a tutor to his little sister. he taught her everything he knew and then when there was nothing for him to teach her, they learned together.
#3: encourage conversation
this was a big one, because up until big A went to kindergarten, he was pretty much nonverbal. I was pregnant with little A during his first year in school, and even though he had made some progress communicating, it really jumpstarted when we started to talk to little A together. aside from the stories and songs he’d say to her in the womb – when she was finally born, his speech flourished. when little A started cooing and babbling, he would be right there talking back to her as if he knew what she was saying. as she got older and started “baby talk” he would say “little A wants this”, “little A needs that”, “little A is trying to say xyz”. he wholeheartedly believed he understood his sister’s baby talk, to the point that he would have full on (broken) conversations with her. as time went on, they honestly learned to talk together. now that he’s 9 and she’s 3, I see so much of him mirrored in her.
for the awesome autistics that are completely nonverbal, speech is not the only way to communicate. our little humans are absolutely incredible that way 🙂 encourage all forms of communication: sign language, broken speech, touch, eye/facial expressions, etc. believe me when I say our babies know and understand more than we think they do.
#4: create a safe space for your awesome autistic
I can’t speak on anyone else’s child, but I can say that mine is not a big fan of change. anytime there’s a shift in his routine – especially those that are sudden – more often than not it causes an emotional breakdown. for the most part, I avoided this in the beginning because I introduced them to one another early. as they both get older, despite how fiercely he loves her, she can be hyper and loud and just full of energy when he is not; for those moments, a safe space is important. big A hasn’t always been the best at expressing himself, and during the times when he’s feeling emotionally vulnerable, he likes his alone time. sometimes he’ll build a fort on the top bunk and he finds comfort in the quiet darkness, other times he’ll take his minions outside and just sit in the tent until he decompresses. whatever his escape is, I encourage him to take the time he needs and make sure that little A doesn’t invade or interrupt that peace. the safer our little humans feel and the more we encourage them to get acquainted at their own pace, the more open they’ll be to new people (places and things, too).