During one heated moment with tears in her eyes, the look my neuro typical daughter gave me, said it all, “I’m here too, mom”.
Nicole, my twelve year old daughter, is considered neurotypical compared to her brother. Yet, having a younger brother with autism is not very typical at all. One evening, I exploded when my daughter just kept pushing all my buttons. She bursted into tears and said, “everything is about Richie. Richie, Richie, Richie”.
Disability affects the entire family. My husband and I had grieved when our son was diagnosed with autism and through the years have come to terms with it. Life experience gave us the tools to cope with our son’s diagnosis. I realize now that Nicole is grieving as she and her brother is growing up. She is seeing how different her brother is and how we function as a family compared to her peers. Alone and isolated, limited life experience makes it difficult to cope.
Through the lens of my daughter’s eyes, her experiences are not typical among her peers. Normal conversation with her brother is limited due to his speech apraxia; his sensitivity to sound and food allergies make it difficult for our family to go to restaurants. Then there’s the hurtful comments made by her friends, “he’s weird” during those times he becomes very hyper and excited. At the age of wanting to fit in, she tries to defend him the best she can without causing drama among her friends. Drama is a daily occurrence among twelve year old girls. Her hurt, I admit, is part of my doing as well. Because my daughter is capable of doing many things unlike her brother, my focus tends to be more on his needs. I’m certain there were times she has reached to me and my husband for help but our focus were on our son or we were just purely exhausted.
The look on Nicole’s face that day reminded me that “autism” has affected her too. Her needs are not lessened in comparison to my son just because she is neurotypical; it’s just different and equally important. Recently, I’ve been taking advantage of those times when there is peace in our family, to ask my daughter how she feels. She has since expressed feelings of jealousy for the extra attention her brother gets; embarrassment of his behavior in public; frustration and angry feelings when vacation gets interrupted; and feelings of guilt for having negative reactions towards her brother whom she loves. I’m sure there are a lot more she has not yet disclosed to me. I often wonder if she has feelings of anxiety for the future. Does she feel she may have to be responsible for him one day?
Despite these feelings, I see what autism has given my daughter: patience, acceptance of differences in others, loyalty towards her brother when friends make mean comments, compassion and kindness towards other people. Nicole is s at the age where she is currently challenging me and my husband beyond our limits. I’m sure she will continue to push our buttons, but that look she gave that one heated moment will temper my response. This article is dedicated to you Nicole. “I love you and yes, I see you”, Mom.
Remy Nirsch' is married and mother to two children, daughter Nicole (12 nuerotypical chid) and son Richie (8 yr old diagnosed with autism).