"I Want Colin to Learn Words"
Lately, I've been thinking about how an autism diagnosis affects their siblings.
My boys are 12 months apart. Yes, they're super close. That was completely unplanned, but God has a sense of humor like that and sent Colin our way when our IVF baby was just four months old.
(You think you can't get pregnant? Ha, watch this!" -God)
Finley (12 months, 12 days), Colin (6 days old)
I won't lie, the early years were difficult. I had a newborn who didn't sleep, and a toddler who didn't sleep. I had two little ones in diapers and on bottles. I felt like I had twins, one was just a bigger, stronger, more mobile version.
I knew, though, that having two little boys so close in age would be so much fun....one day. You know, after the diapers, bottles, and sleepless nights ended. They would be the best of friends and we would have so much fun. I knew from day one that Finley was going to be a good big brother, little did I know that he would be the greatest big brother in the whole entire world ever in the history of big brothers. (I feel like we should have that printed on a shirt for him!)
Finley is compassionate. He just has the biggest little heart that I've ever seen in a such a tiny person. He knows when to be gentle and encouraging, almost as if he has a sixth sense. (And let me tell you, I'm so glad his sixth sense is compassion and not seeing dead people. Mommy couldn't handle that one!)
Finley is understanding. He just seems to know that things are harder for Colin, and he accepts it. Now, does he sometimes yell and scream at his little brother when he hits the TV or steals his toys? Yes, but that's typical "I'm older than you and you have to do as I say because I'm six and you're just five" big brother stuff. I'm talking about those hard situations. Like the times we have to leave a fun party early because Colin has met his max and is approaching meltdown mode....Finley never questions that we have to leave, because he understands. He doesn't bat an eye when Colin gets excited and starts to squeal and flap his hands, because he gets it.
If you'd see Finley out somewhere, you'd just think he's a typical six year old. And you wouldn't be wrong. He's in kindergarten. He loves cowboys and Fortnite. He plays soccer and loves junk food. But underneath all that typical stuff, he is such an old soul, wise beyond his years. The way that he loves and cares for his brother can make my heart swell and also break at the same time.
Colin's communication skills have come a long way in the last year. He uses an Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) device. He uses LAMP Words for Life on an iPad. AAC has truly opened up so many doors for him, giving him access to language that he just didn't have a year ago. In the last month, his speech has really started to emerge, which makes this speech language pathologist mom so excited.
His big brother is excited about it too.
Finley was excited for me to check his backpack after school one day last week. I pulled out a paper with some words written on it. I "ohh'ed" and "ahh'ed" over his writing and spelling skills, because it really does blow me away that he can do this as a kindergartener (because I think I was probably just playing with glue when I was in kindergarten!).
He looked at me so seriously and said, "I brought that for Colin. I want him to learn words. I don't want him to use a device to talk."
Heart swells, then breaks.
I was so proud and just melting over the fact that he brought home something that he wanted to teach his brother....then my heart broke when he added, "I don't want him to use a device to talk."
...because if I'm honest with myself, that's not what I wanted for my son either.
When I was in graduate school, I remember doing an AAC project in my autism class. I remember thinking, "I'll never use this. How many kids actually need an AAC device?" How naive and inexperienced that girl was back then. Little did I know that God was laying the framework for me 10 years ago, because my son would use AAC. He would need it to communicate. Oh, how I have been humbled on this autism journey.
...but no one wants that for their child. No one plans for that. No one really thinks about that, until you're in the position of needing it.
So I completely understood and appreciated Finley's honesty. He wants his brother to talk to him. I see the twinkle in Finn's eyes when Colin runs up to him with a smile on his face and says, "Run, Finn," and they take off playing chase.
While I never would have wanted my child to struggle to talk, I am thankful.
- I am thankful for the technology available to him. We live in a time that AAC via an iPad is accessible to him, and I am so, so grateful that he has it.
- I am thankful that he can communicate. Truly, I always hope and pray for his speech to come, but...I am glad that he has access to language through AAC. I am grateful that he can share his thoughts, feelings, wants, and needs with us, and AAC gives us a glimpse inside his beautiful mind.
- I am so humbled by the lessons I have learned through our AAC journey. I have come to realize that many people need AAC, and many more should have it too. Communication is a basic human right, and every human being deserves it. As an SLP, I know I probably shouldn't admit all of this, but I'm just being honest. While it isn't something that I would have ever just chosen for my child, I am so overwhelmingly thankful for it. I hope that makes sense....
...but it's hard for me to explain all of these big emotions and truths to a six year old. Really, though, I don't think I have to explain it....because I truly believe that, deep down, he gets it too. The knowing doesn't always make it easier, though, particularly for a child.
In moments like this, I realize just how much Colin's diagnosis affects his brother. Such a simple thing - wanting your brother to talk - is so, so huge. So every time Colin gets a new word, I celebrate for him, but I also celebrate for Finley too.
He is so proud of his brother, and I know that he will always love and support him. Even if Colin uses a device for his whole life, I hope he knows that he has the support of his entire family, especially his big brother. Colin is so blessed to have him. He will encourage him on his autism journey, and he will accept him just as he is.
....And he will always tattle on him and yell at him for throwing toys - just keeping him in line - like any good big brother would do.