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Siblings, Autism & Autistic-American Families: Book Review

Siblings, Autism & Autistic-American Families: Book Review
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While visiting my son Charlie‘s autism school yesterday, we spoke briefly to a man whose 20-year-old daughter is also a student there. He had overheard the brief strategizing session we were having with Charlie’s teacher and a behaviorist about his attending day camp for the first time ever next week. The man enthused about the sleepaway camp his daughter attends and asked us if we had another child. When we said we that Charlie is our only child, the man expressed his regrets that Charlie doesn’t have a sibling.

We’ve heard this before; other people have suggested it’s a pity we “only” have Charlie and are therefore missing out on all those experiences of a “typical” child’s childhood. Jim and I find our life with Charlie to be quite full and fulfilling. It’s a truism but every family is different and, for us, being able to devote all of our energy and resources to Charlie — who has many needs — has been the right choice.

Reading a recently published book by two friends, Siblings and Autism: Stories Spanning Generations and Cultures, has given me more insight about how things might be if Charlie had a sister or brother. Siblings and Autism is edited by Debra L. Cumberland, whose brother is autistic, and Bruce E. Mills, whose son Jacob is autistic. I met Debra and Bruce some years ago at a conference about autism and representation, and I have also been fortunate to meet Bruce’s children, Jacob and Sarah. Many of the contributors to Siblings and Autism are, like Debra and Bruce, professors of English and writers. Maureen McDonnell, who grew up with two autistic brothers, and Alison Wilde, who writes of “feeling privileged to have a sister like Sarah” (p. 201), are involved in disability organizations and in advocating for the needs of autistic individuals. Two writers, Aparna Das and Chuan Wu, write about growing up with an autistic sibling outside the US, in India and China, respectively.

Siblings and Autism shouldn’t only be read by those with a sibling on the autism spectrum, or by parents who have an autistic child and one who is not. The book provides a valuable window into what it was like to raise an autistic child in the 1960s and 1970s.

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9 comments

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7:30PM PDT on Aug 21, 2011

It seems like a very wise choice to have your Charlie as an only child. As you point out, you are able to devote to him the time and attention he both needs and deserves. I wonder about the ethics and reasons people have children if they are implying that you are missing out on something by not having another child. I also wonder if their own autistic children may suffer some neglect, albeit perhaps minimal, due to some selfish need to have more "normal children". Geez, the attitude is atrocious, but I personally applaud you and your decision here.

7:29PM PDT on Aug 21, 2011

It seems like a very wise choice to have your Charlie as an only child. As you point out, you are able to devote to him the time and attention he both needs and deserves. I wonder about the ethics and reasons people have children if they are implying that you are missing out on something by not having another child. I also wonder if their own autistic children may suffer some neglect, albeit perhaps minimal, due to some selfish need to have more "normal children". Geez, the attitude is atrocious, but I personally applaud you and your decision here.

9:02AM PDT on Aug 10, 2011

I sometimes wonder what it was like for my younger brother growing up with an older sister (me) who has Asperger's. I imagine my behavior sometimes frightened and alarmed him or made him embarrassed in front of his friends.

6:41AM PDT on Aug 10, 2011

This is amazing and I thank the authors for their stories of their families. I have often seen siblings of an autistic youngest child, but it seems that many do not have any more children after the special needs child.

5:22AM PDT on Aug 10, 2011

I have 3 now-adult kids, 2 on the autism spectrum. I want to read this book; it sounds wonderful.

4:47AM PDT on Aug 10, 2011

The book sounds excellent. Mild, mild autism--perhaps Aspergers, perhaps PDD-NOS--runs thru our family like a stream thru a forest. I will look for this book.

12:30PM PDT on Aug 9, 2011

Thank you for the information.

10:50AM PDT on Aug 9, 2011

thanks for sharing!!

9:43AM PDT on Aug 9, 2011

It is good they include Siblings in this info, I have 6 kids, 3 of whom are Autistic, and their 3 siblings have struggles ---and talents--- other kids do not due to their disabled siblings.

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