A second pair of eyes watched you and all your actions carefully.
You may not have noticed these eyes observing you as you were fully engrossed in your child on the spectrum or the one with the difficulty.
But I noticed these beautiful eyes looking at you when you were unaware.
She wanted to jump on the trampoline with her sister, but her sister pushed her away. I noticed the crest fallen face. She tried to hide the feeling of ‘rejection.’
She moved away, ever so slightly.
The next week I saw her passing groceries to her sister so that she could stack them in a cupboard. I noticed how carefully she passed each item so that her little sister could feel competent. She deliberately slowed down for her sister. She looked out for her difficulties.
I sat amazed as I monitored her moves. She’s a little girl herself, not much older than her sister on the spectrum.
I continued to observe as she reminded me of my own daughter, Tanya who looked out for her brother, Mohit when they were little.
Had I observed little Tanya, like I did this little girl, our story would have turned out differently.
In her teenage years, Tanya was badly affected by our ‘over concern’ for Mohit. She mistook it as ‘more love’ for Mohit than her.
“You love him more than me.” I will not forget these words.
We had to go down the painful route of family counseling and therapy. This lasted a few years.
However, with this wonderful little girl and her sister, things will not go the way it did for Tanya and Mohit.
I know because this family is on the RDI Family Consultation Program.
They know how to schedule time with both their daughters and spend time meaningfully with both of them.
Parents have already started taking action to ensure that they spend quality time with their older daughter too. They make sure all her emotional needs are taken care of.
They also work on themselves to ensure that their energy levels remain high.
Are you struggling with these issues?
Does your older / younger child feel neglected in any way?
Do they accuse you of being unfair?
Have you noted anxiety or attention seeking behaviors?
Of loving their autistic sibling or the one with the difficulty, more than you love them?
Consider these to be red flags and start working on your relationship, with your other child today.
1. Spend quality time with both your children
Schedule some time with both children, alone.
Do art and craft projects with them, take them out for a drive or a snack– just you and them.
I remember how Tanya enjoyed decorating her room with ‘glow stars’.
It’s wonderful to do it together.
If they’re older cook or bake with them. It’s hugely cathartic.
If you would like to receive a ‘scheduling sheet’ to help you with this, drop us an email
2. Keep the channels of communication open
Keep your phone in another room or keep notifications off so you’re not distracted, while interacting with family members.
I sometimes struggle with this.
Work can take a back step for a few minutes as you chat with them.
Let them know that they can talk to you at any point of time. Have an open door policy.
3. Have open conversations with them
When you talk about your other child’s difficulties address their difficulties.
How much do they know about autism?
Point out articles or other programs they can read and understand their sibling better.
This PDF from Autism Speaks is quite comprehensive.
Your child on the spectrum should not get special privileges or treatment.
Household chores, cleaning up expectations should be the same for all your children.
This will create a sense of bonding between them, too.
I expect both my children to greet guests when they come over. Mohit doesn’t get off the hook due to his autism.
5. Acknowledge their feelings
Initially, I made this mistake several times.
(I think I still do sometimes).
If Tanya came to me to explain something that she was struggling with, I would try to explain the situation to her.
It did not help. I learned to stop doing it.
Listen without interrupting or offering explanations.
Remember, this trivialises their feelings.
Give them the time and space to say exactly what they need to.
6. Have a support system in place
This could include grand parents, aunts and uncles. Cousins make a huge difference.
They need to have others to talk to, besides just their parents.
Be hopeful and optimistic.
Things work out, in the end. I have my own experience to share with you.
Today, things are good between Mohit and Tanya.
The other day, he was up really early in the morning.
He needed something from the kitchen and instead of waking up Anil or me, he went and woke Tanya.
I could hear the playful banter between them as I lay in bed.
It brought a smile to my face. And a ton of relief.
I went back to sleep with a smile on my face.
Kamini Lakhani is the founder and director of SAI Connections. She has been providing services in the field of autism for more than 25 years and is the authorized director of Professional Training for RDI in India and the Middle East. She is also the mother of a young adult with autism.