An ode to autistic Henry's siblings
I have no idea what an ode is but, it sounds like something I must have learned at school, I hope it's not a poem, I'm rubbish at those. Anyway, in normal speak, this blog is going to be a shout out to the siblings of my youngest son Henry who is on the autism spectrum. Introducing Ben (15) and Abi (13). Thought I'd be nice about my two screenagers for once especially since it's Christmas time and all.
There we were all those years ago, one boy, one girl, both so different in personality (aren't they all) and along came a country move to SA with work, and their little brother Henry too (they were 8 and 5 years old respectively) who they have adored since day one.
That day one being Henry born by emergency c-section, 4 weeks prem, in ICU fighting off what they called congenital pneumonia for two very long weeks in our lives! Going home from the hospital without your baby is um, not fun.
When Henry was 15 months old along came another country move, more school moves, and this time in Asia. As young children do, they took all of this in their stride, always looking forwards never dwelling on the past. Their parents, however, did not take it all in their stride. Leaving my family and friends in SA, AGAIN, was truly one of the most awful days of my life. Ending my paragraphs on some lovely positive notes here...not.
Concerns about Henry started at around 18 months leading up to a hearing test at 2years old and the snowball from there. I don't really recall sitting his siblings down to tell them about his autism, I think we simply mentioned bits when an opportunity arose, usually around Henry's increasingly unusual behaviours ah-hem, and besides, we barely knew anything about autism ourselves and none of the professionals wanted to even go there either.
Most of the chat with Ben and Abi was simply around Henry being quirky and a bit of a crazy little nutter who they thought was endearing and hilarious. They didn't know he was meant to be talking by age 3 and sleeping through the night and going to the toilet and drinking from a cup and, and, and.
It was only when a friend with younger children came over one day that I remember Abi saying something like "How come Jess' little boy can talk so much more than Henry Mummy?" The other occasion I recall was shortly after receiving the results of a speech and language assessment for Henry that scored him as 9 months old developmentally, across the board, when he was almost 3yrs old.
We told Ben and Abi that Henry had some delays and learning problems, that he was going to be OK, he was happy and healthy, and that he would be going to a special 'nursery school' for therapy to help him.
The astonishing thing about Henry's siblings, and all siblings, I think, is that they do not judge, their love is unconditional without even knowing it, and they accept without needing to fully understand.
Henry's siblings have been my biggest blessing when it has come to his autism. They are my mentors, my guides, my saviours. They have taught me so much and I could never have taken on this journey without them. They have no concerns about Henry's future, or where he is at developmentally for his age. He is their brother, autism is what it is, he couldn't be anything else, they love him and protect him always (I don't think they even really know this about themselves but I see it all the time).
They have each created their own unique and very different relationships with Henry, and always, always, in my darkest moments with Henry they have lifted me up with humour. And it has not been laughing at Henry, it has been laughing over the incredibly funny and unique and sometimes crazy-to-us ways he behaves because of his autism.
They never ever see the negative or socially unacceptable in anything Henry does. He has never ever embarrassed them, they have never complained about what we cannot do as a family because Henry will not cope. They have never questioned why both their parents can never come to an event they might be part of to watch together.
Now, before I go giving them the status of Saints, I will say that I am sure they have indeed felt a bit embarrassed or a bit left out or a bit hand-braked by their brother and I am sure they have felt things are a bit unfair at times too. I also know that some of Henry's bad days or unwillingness to engage socially with them does cause distress and sadness but, they never voice it because they understand and accept.
That is all I ever want for others to learn about autism. If you take the time to learn (my children have no choice) then you will understand and accepting it will come easily and naturally. You won't even see the autism, you will just see the incredible person.