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.
Photo of my friend Shannon Rosa's three wonderful kids.
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