Saturday, April 9, 2011

SNSS: When It's More Than Sibling Rivalry

Today, I would like to welcome the lovely Jen Troester as my guest here at Special Needs Sibling Saturdays this week. Jen blogs over at Living Life, with a Side of Autism.  I'm sure you can guess by the title of her blog, she has a child who is on the autism spectrum, a daughter. She also has a younger son who is not.

I truly admire Jen and her desire to tell truths. Sugar-coating is never her style. This can be a big breath of fresh air for those of us trying so hard to spin the "oh, this isn't so bad" wheel a few times too often, while quietly crying in our private corners.

As you will see from her post below, besides being brave and honest, Jen a lovely writer.

Thank you, Jen, for courageously opening up your heart and sharing your story with all of us. I am deeply honored and grateful to have you here.


When It's More Than Sibling Rivalry - by Jen Troester

I always knew that I wanted at least two, if not three children. As much as I might have wished I was an only child when I was young, I cannot imagine not having siblings as an adult.

We started trying for a baby when Katie was 19 months old, one month after she started Early Intervention for an expressive/receptive speech delay. Autism wasn't even on our radar at the time, and we wanted so badly to give Katie a brother or sister.

I imagined them playing together, and growing up extremely close. I envisioned grand kids and growing old surrounded by a big family. Yes, I tend to look into the future. Way into the future. The one thing I didn't see was where Katie's delays would take us, only a few years down the road.

When Ben was born, Katie was a little over 2 and 1/2. She was still extremely delayed in speech, and pretty much cried inconsolably for two weeks. I think that is pretty common, though. No toddler can really understand a new person suddenly taking over.

But our child wasn't able to express any of her feelings, good or bad. Not even to say she wished we could give her little brother away, like I have heard from so many friends when they gave birth to number two.

The difference between Katie and other kids is that she never go over not wanting Ben around. They never became real playmates. She was angry about his presence from day one, and still is to this day.

There are the random times that she seems to enjoy his company, but 95% of the time she wants nothing to do with him. It's a tough thing to watch, especially when Ben so badly wants to be part of her life. How do you explain to a  2, 3, 4 year old that his sister might never want anything to do with him?

Unfortunately, the worst part is not that she doesn't want to play. The worst part is that she takes out all her frustrations and anger on him. He is a lot smaller and doesn't really fight back. She doesn't go after my husband or I. She goes after him. Physically. She hits him, kicks him, throws him down, sits on him.

It got so bad that last summer I seriously considered taking Katie and moving out. I needed to make our home safe for our son, and I didn't know how to control Katie's behavior, and no one could really offer us anything useful.

Our developmental pediatrician asked if Katie was leaving marks on Ben, as though that was the threshold for when things were really bad. I wasn't willing to wait for a broken bone or broken skin, a black eye or bruised face. It wasn't OK that she was hurting him, regardless of what marks were left, or not left.

At the beginning of this year we took the very hard step of putting Katie on psychiatric medication to control her tantrums and aggression. I agonized over the decision, not at all wanting to put my almost 7 year-old on anti-psychotic drugs.

But, we had no choice. It wasn't just about Katie. We had another child we had to take into consideration. The perfect playmate had turned into the perfect target.

The drugs did help. I couldn't deny how the aggression diminished, and, even though I still hate the fact my child is on a heavy-duty medication, it has kept Ben safe.

When you have a child with Autism there are a lot of dreams you have to leave behind. It's one thing to give up dance recitals and soccer games, but giving up the relationship you dreamed for your children? That is almost too hard to bear. I am not sure if Katie will ever want a close relationship with Ben, or any relationship at all.

It breaks my heart to watch my Ben follow her around, day after day, still trying to engage her. To play with her. To just talk with her. To watch him be rejected over and over again, but still try. To know Ben will never have a chance for a typical sibling relationship because that third child I always wanted will never be.

Now that we know the road we are on with Katie, we can't take that chance. I love my son, and I am grateful everyday that we decided to have a second child before receiving Katie's diagnosis. But now that we know, our choices are different.

I don't like playing referee. I don't like trying to explain to my 4 year-old why his sister won't play. I don't like listening to my daughter scream that she hates her brother. I don't like having to make sure no physical harm comes to Ben. The emotional harm... that I cannot yet gauge.

I've stopped looking years into the future. Right now, I am just trying to make it through today. Trying to keep my son safe.

Never did I think life with my children would be like this. Not in my wildest dreams. Although, Autism wasn't a part of those dreams. It just sneaked in and stole them.


Thank you, Jen, for your utter honesty; for baring your soul here for us, for bearing witness. This can not have been an easy post to write, to admit to yourself, let alone to all of us, how rough things are in your house, how far from the idealized dream the reality of your family life is.  

Reading this, I can only think there is a parent out there, right now, struggling with this same heavy load, worrying, wondering how to hold a family together when there is so much wildness and destruction in one child that harm is threatened to another.

And they need to know they are not alone. They need to know that it can change, that things can get better, and that if they could get over their fear of the potential harm or stigma of giving their child psychiatric medication, their child might be tremendously helped by it.  

No child wants to be out of control. When they are able to talk about it, most people who have been appropriately and properly medicated speak of the feeling of coming out of a black hole into the light. 

Jen, you are helping spread light with this post, even though you had to go into a dark place to write it. I thank you, for the gift that it is.

And now that you have spent some time reading Jen’s words here, please go visit her at Living Life, with a Side of Autism. Be sure to read this post and this one

Also know that while Jen often blogs about the dark side of autism, she also clearly appreciates and celebrates all that is lovely and wonderful in her children in posts like this lovely one.

Finally, you can find and follow her on Twitter and "like" her on Facebook. So, what are you waiting for? Go connect with Jen today!

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