Meeting The Needs Of Your ASD and Non-ASD Children: The Struggle Is Freaking Real

by Jessica Sylfest
sibling with autism
Jessica Sylfest

I know that I expect too much from my neurotypical son. I know it and see it and feel it in big and small ways every single day.

In the way he rises to the occasion time and time again to be what we need him to be. In the instances he accepts less than he deserves to help us move forward from a difficult moment. In the gentle sadness in his big blue eyes that see things I cannot protect him from.

I expect too much of my typical son. And every single day he is the little man that I need him to be.

We received my oldest son’s autism spectrum disorder diagnosis when my youngest son was only 11 months old. But our great expectations of him started long before his brother’s diagnosis.

Our oldest son has always needed a lot from us. He needs time and energy. He needs our focus. He needs constant direction, and redirection, and then more direction again and again. He needs patience. He needs so much patience that we spend time each day taking deep breaths and digging deeper for more patience — trying to be everything we can be to get through that moment.

He needs our love — unconditional love. He needs to feel safety and comfort when he is near us. It takes time to make him feel safe. And it takes time to make him comfortable. He needs everything to be just so. And each day we arrange all of the pieces of our life to be just so. We arrange, and rearrange, and sometimes we wipe it all clean and start from the beginning.

He needs these things from us. And because he is our son and because we love him with the deepest kind of love, we give him what he needs.

In too many moments, we turn our attention from our typical son to address the needs of our son with autism. But our typical son has needs too. He needs love and support. He needs guidance. He needs moments of joy and silliness. He needs to feel safety and comfort. He needs from us. And we need from him.

He is growing up in a house that is not always peaceful. Many days he watches as his older brother throws things and slams doors. He sees us sweep up the shattered pieces of the broken things. He looks on with wide eyes as his brother pummels us in the head.

Despite our best efforts, he see our tears. He watches his mommy and daddy fight to be stronger. He cries and covers his ears as he hears the screams coming from his brother. Screams of sadness, screams of anger, and often screams for no reason at all.

In all of these moments, I go to my youngest son. I hold him close to me, and I try to explain things that I myself cannot understand. I tell him about his special big brother. I help him to understand how every person is different. How every person needs different things.

I tell him every single day how much his big brother loves him. I tell him to never forget that. To always remember the love.

And as I say these words to my 2-year-old son, I take the opportunity to remind my heart of these words as well. It is all too easy in the chaos of the moment to forget that the anger and fear and sadness are the autism and not our beautiful boy. Love is the center of it all. We have to remember the love.

So I tell my youngest son that everything is going to be okay. And I tell myself too.

I know that one day, not too far from now, I will sit down with my youngest son to explain just how special and different his big brother is. I will help him understand. We will talk about autism in a real way. We will use real words and real feelings to describe the presence of autism in our life. We will create a dialogue that is open and ongoing.

My youngest son will have questions. He will want to know why his brother always gets the green plate, or why he has to take the donut that is missing sprinkles on one side. He will question why he is asked to “trade” items that he is happily playing with when his brother changes his mind. He will ask why time and time again we leave an activity that he is enjoying because his brother needs to leave.

He will ask me these questions and so many more. And I will give him the answers that he deserves.

The truth is that I know I expect too much out of my typical son. I ask him to be patient and brave and kind. Strong — stronger than any 2-year-old should need to be.

He amazes me every single day with the power of his heart. I see the way that he loves his brother unconditionally. I see the way he rebounds from being pushed or hit. And within moments, he is resting his head on his brother’s shoulder.

Yes, I ask too much of my youngest son. But he chooses to give it, to me, to his brother, to our family. Because his love is the purest form of love. Just a typical 2-year-old boy who fiercely loves his brother — autism and all.