Saturday, July 16, 2011

SNSS: Siblings – The Best Therapy

Today's Special Needs Sibling Saturdays guest is a real dynamo. If I ever feel tempted to whine about feeling overwhelmed by my life (and believe me, I do) I just think of Julie Cole. 

Julie chronicles her life as the mother of SIX (yes, I said 6!) children in her writing at two blogs, The Baby Machine, at the Yummy Mummy Club (a wonderful Canadian site) and Mabel Mama of Many at The Mabelhood.  She also works full time at the wonderful company she co-founded, Mabel’s Labels Inc.

And I have never heard her whine once, never seen her be anything less than friendly, gracious and lovely at the many blogging events she must attend to promote her business. 

Julie's six children range in age from 2 to 11, three girls and three boys.  Her oldest son (currently 11) is the one who is on the autism spectrum. Also, her youngest son is experiencing significant speech delays and some behavioral issues that is making her concerned he may be headed down some version of that same path.

Julie is not, primarily, an autism blogger, writing mostly about the general parenting issues that come with having six kids, a Mom of Many, indeed. She doesn't downplay the way autism has impacted their lives. It's more that she's matter-of-fact about it, it's just one issue of... many, in their busy, busy lives.

In fact, I know that she has an autistic child because she casually brought it up when I first met her and we were talking about my main blogging topics. Frankly I was shocked. She looked so relaxed, so cheerful, so un-frazzled, I didn't know how she did it. 

I still don't know how she does it. And I HATE it when people say that to & about ME. But still, I am deeply impressed by her joie de vivre in the face of how much she juggles on a daily basis. 

But enough of my chit chat, come read all about her large, wonderful family, here:


Siblings – The Best Therapy – by Julie Cole

Julie's six children in 2009
When my eldest child was diagnosed with autism at the age of three, he already had two little sisters. People commented about how “brave” I was to go on and have two more. There was actually nothing brave about it – his sisters had already arrived by the time he was diagnosed.

Perhaps the brave part came when we went on to have three more children. Our kid head count is up to six, the eldest now eleven years old and the youngest recently turned two.

I find the term “brave” to be a strange one. The underlying implication is that raising a child with autism must be so awful that you wouldn’t risk going through it again.

Believe me, the thought of going down the autism road twice was very daunting and certainly not on my bucket list of things to do before I die. However, we found that the benefit of having more kids outweighed the risk of another autism experience.

Besides, I figured if it happened again, at least I would know what I was doing this time around. I had invested so much time and money into research and materials, I had studied and read about therapies and I was a full member of the autism community.

A second child with autism would have almost made sense – I would be getting more out of all the work I did for Number One Son!

The benefits of his sibling relationships have been countless for my son, for various reasons. To name a few:

Siblings Force Him Out of His Comfort Zone
Here was a kid with communication deficits and difficulty with social skills. When you have three little sisters by the time you are five, there’s no avoiding situations that target your deficits.

Those sisters chatted with him, kept him engaged and dragged him into imaginative play around the clock. He was socialized at all times – he did everything with his sisters from eating, bathing and sharing a bedroom. He couldn’t turn around without having a sister in his face putting demands on him.

Big Families Have Big Expectations
We’ve all seen it within the community – parents who cater to their child because of an autism diagnosis. Sometimes they just do too much for their kids because they feel bad for them. The classic learned helplessness case is especially upsetting when you see it in children with disabilities.

No chance of that happening around here; I’m too busy to cater to his every whim. Our little man has to run with the pack – doing chores, watching his youngest brother, getting his homework done on time. There is a set of rules in our house, and his autism doesn’t get him off the hook. It takes all hands on deck to keep a family like this functioning, and every member must chip in.

Cheap Therapy
My children have been raised in a household where ABA is a lifestyle. The funniest little therapist moment I can remember was when my son was six and his sister was five. I asked him to get me a spoon so he walked into the kitchen and stood staring at the drawers unsure of where the spoons were.

His little sister, knowing that we never feed him answers, joined him in the kitchen and said “OK, do you think the spoons are in THIS drawer, or THIS drawer?” pointing at two different drawers. I rolled my eyes as he went over to the correct drawer and fetched me the spoon.

I didn’t decide to have a lot of children because of my son’s autism, but with each passing day I am more and more convinced that his siblings are the very best gift I gave him.

And they’re pretty darn lucky to have him too.


Thank you so much, Julie for straight-shooting, upbeat post. So much like yourself. You really are my hero.

So now that you have read her here, you're definitely going to want more Julie (more! more!) so come visit her at her blogs, The Baby Machine and Mabel Mama of Many, where she makes parenting six kids look easy (or at least manageable) and most importantly - FUN!

Try this moving post about something we've all experienced: Mrs. Judgy McJudgerson at the Mall or this one about acceptance: You Get What You Get or this moving post about miscarriage and loss: A Different Kind of Remembrance Day.

The closest she ever gets to complaining that I've seen is here, telling us what NOT to say to her about her autistic son: Nice Things You Say That Annoy Me, and here she makes it clear that she thinks her life is anything but awful: Is My Life Awful?  

Finally, you should read this post: The Reasons You Should Not Take My Advice because it's really funny.

Also? You will certainly want to follow Julie on Twitter as both herself @juliecole, and also her business @mabelhood to keep up with news and special offers on their fabulous products.

Thanks once again Julie for taking time out of your incredibly busy life to share some of your wonderful self with us, here. (And I can't wait it see you again in August at BH11.)

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