Since our daughter was three, we have been shuffling her from one therapy to the next, participating in every social skills group we can, and trying out every special needs class in existence. Our son was just approaching two years old when he started therapies, social skills groups, and special needs classes right alongside his sister. Yep, that’s right. He was there and is still there for all of it. And not just on the sidelines, but an active and willing participant. As I look back on that time and how challenging it was, I’m so grateful for that sometimes rocky road because not only did our autistic daughter benefit greatly, but without us realizing, our son benefited immensely too. Little did we know that we provided a foundation for our son that would inevitably help him help his sister to grow and flourish.
Right from the start, we were teaching our son about inclusion through his involvement in our daughter’s therapies and we had no idea. Sure we’ve always taught our kids to be kind, but inclusion is much more than making nice and being friendly. And it’s not just about disabilities. It’s about bringing everyone, no matter their differences, inside the circle or group. It’s about everyone being invited in and no one being left out. In every therapy, he learned what his sister’s challenges were. Then he learned how he could help her move through them and how he could cope with them himself. In every social skills group, he played alongside of his sister and helped her to play alongside her peers. And every class, he takes it with her.
But why has he never once asked us if a therapy, social skills group, or class was just for kids like his sister? Why hasn’t he questioned why he was participating in something, when he doesn’t have autism or special needs? It’s pretty simple really. He has learned what inclusion is by being included. He has learned that every therapy, group, class, and moment is an opportunity for us all to learn and accept others, whether they have special needs or not. He knows something that it takes many people until adulthood to learn, if they every learn at all. That is that together we can positively impact each others’ lives, instead of being separated from each other where we perpetuate ignorance and exclusion.
Today our son used his skills from therapy to talk his sister through a meltdown. Instead of getting annoyed, he helped her through her frustrations and empathized with her. He accepted where she was in her struggle and was understanding. His positive outlook and patience calmed her down, even when the situation became very stressful for her. He has basically learned to redirect her and help her to accept things that are out of her control, which is no small feat.
In his short eight years, our son has learned so much about communication, behaviors, social skills, cooperation, and acceptance. He has become such a compassionate sibling and friend. More than that, he is growing into an amazing little human. Yes, therapy can be stressful, time consuming, and challenging at times, especially when you’ve got a second child in tow. But just imagine for a moment all the positive that can come from it. Think about how much it’s helping both or all of your children.
Therapy most definitely helps the siblings too. And while I’ll admit, I would love to see my son grow up to be a priest some day, I’d be equally as thrilled if he became a therapist. Because therapy has helped mold him into a very special person who is keenly aware of other people’s feelings and who is accepting of all differences. Maybe someday he will make a difference in our world by bringing brothers and sisters together in therapies and teaching many sets of siblings what it truly means to be included.
Photo By Bobbilee Tanner Photography