Readers and followers of my various social media websites already know that I am very close to my two autistic sons. Both my husband and I have done our best to instill in our sons the values that I believe all parents hope their children will learn: doing what is right, having manners, developing healthy relationships, and the list goes on. Above all, my husband and I drill into both boys that as siblings, they need to take care of each other – being their brother’s keeper. We do this not only because it is what both of us learned over the years and believe it is the right thing to do, but research on siblings of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) demonstrated that strong bonds help develop greater coherence in sibling relationship and other peer-to-peer relationships (see research article at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jir.12124/full). According to the Journal of Intellectual Disability Research (Jan. 2015) noted above, when a child with ASD has a sibling who is typically developing (TD), the TD child tends to be given less attention by the parents or other significant adults, and this in itself (as observed) can lead to the TD child misunderstanding the behaviors exhibited by their ASD sibling and the attending adults.
In The Last Prophet book series, the main character talks about the effects of being our brother’s keeper (positive effects) and the consequences of neglecting this duty (negative effects). Although the main character uses examples of current world events and what could be considered injustices in the world, she uses the teaching of being responsible for our “brothers” and being a good “neighbor” to all those around us, regardless of color, creed, ability, or gender. In Dr. Sophia Randall’s words (the main character of The Last Prophet book series), “As human beings, we were created to take care of one another, and that includes how we live in our world” (The Last Prophet, Michael’s Mission – Book Two). Taking care of one another is exactly what my husband and I choose to impart as knowledge and an important value in our family, especially our two autistic sons. Although we realize that they won’t understand this fully until they are much older and have had life experiences of their own without their parents, it is our hope that exposing the boys to this value is planting the seed.
While I hold this as something of importance to teach my kids, other parents or adults I encounter (most often those who do not have kids with ASD) ask if I worry that they will come to resent each other as a result of having to “take care of” one another. I have heard everything from “They’ll resent you for forcing them to like each other and they won’t talk to each other after you’re gone,” to “My parents made me do that and now I don’t even talk to my sister.” It’s a sad reality, but we don’t all agree on how to raise our children. Many times, I hear comments from other adults who complain about other people’s children. I’m sure you’ve heard people say, “Why can’t they keep their kids under control?” or “They shouldn’t have had kids if they can’t handle them.” Yes, they are harsh judgments made by folks who do not understand that it is the behavior that is bad and not the child. Sadly, I was once one of those judgmental people well before I had my sons or even got married. Call it karma, call it fate, call it what you will. Being on the receiving end of many of these judgments, it can be hurtful and I see it as unfair. It does not change what is happening here and now, and one can’t dwell on past mistakes and still expect to live with peace in their heart. We can only hope that as parents we have left upright, decent, respectable, and loving people behind in the form of our grown children, and learn to forgive ourselves and others, and hopefully educate and inform those who would continue to judge. We can only hope to take care of future situations by addressing the here and now. As I have mentioned, we ARE our brothers’ keepers.
Do we have a social responsibility toward one another? Are we really our brothers’ keepers? Or does it become an individual’s (or their parents) responsibility to learn to care for oneself emotionally, psychologically, physically, and spiritually? I’d like to know. Please comment in the space provided.
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