On Stinky Brothers and Autism

It's been a holy-hell busy two weeks, ending with yesterday's phenomenal BlogHer | bet business, enterpreneurism, and technology summit (check out the official liveblogs, three contributed by yours truly). Kudos to BlogHer for bringing together so many brilliant women, for making us all feel as though anything is possible -- and then giving us real tools to propel our ideas skyward. Personal thanks to Jen Myers for being our partnership's business-minded anchor, and asking all the right people all the right questions.

Speaking of BlogHer, I have a new post up as Contributing Editor for Kids With Special Needs, about our kids' complicated relationships -- and how sometimes Leo's behavior is because he's a brother, not because he has autism. And how we spend a lot of time teaching Mali to separate Leo's actions from his person:  "...while she can be mad about what he does, it is not OK for her to make him feel bad about who he is." Here's an extended quote:
We don't ever leave our youngest daughter Mali alone with Leo, her ten-year-old big brother. It's not safe. Leo's intense autism may complicate his understanding in some ways, but he remembers very clearly that until he was four years old, there was no Mali and he was Mommy's baby. He has no problem showing his antipathy through yelling and pushing. Understandably, Mali is not a Leo fan, though she tends to blame Leo's autism rather than Leo himself. While I know we can keep Mali safe, I worry that these two children I love so fiercely might hate each other. And that breaks my heart.
I'd enjoy hearing about other families' sibling interactions, especially positive ones, and how you shape, mold, encourage, manage, and direct them.


  1. Thankfully my two boys get along fairly well (as they stab each other with light sabers trying to prove me wrong.) But, I do find it interesting that sometimes the younger will call out the older (who is the one with the pdd-nos diagnosis) about specific behaviors that he deems unacceptable. It is funny and disrespectful all in one - because the younger is quite nosy, and yet pretty perceptive, too. Usually the older brother will agree - "Oh no, that's right, I can't handle that" - using his brother's observations as an excuse.

    On one hand, I love that they understand that they each have different personalities, but on the other hand, the whole "younger brother as a mentor for the older brother" is a sometimes uncomfortable dynamic.

  2. Rebecca10:34 AM

    We also find this a challenge. My two boys ages 5 and 6 are autistic, but my 2.5 yr old daughter is not. She has trouble playing with typical peers because she doesn't understand the finer nuances of playtime. She is well versed in the not so subtle art of play with autistic brothers.

    My sons actually get along with each other, but they both get into it with my daughter on a regular basis.

    We try very much to find a balance between my sons' need for routine, therapy, being at home a lot and my daughter's need to do things most kids her age do. It is very hard to do things as a family right now, as mom and dad are out manned 2 to 3. We need one to one coverage during outings, zone defense only works at home.

  3. Anonymous12:11 PM

    The static between my two boys (4 year old n/t and almost 10 year old AS, add, anxiety) is one of our biggest stressors. We can handle the quirkiness, academic delays, crazy executive function issues, etc. It's the anger and meanness directed toward his little brother that I'd wish away if I could. Is it just being brothers? Will they hate each other? Do I just resolve myself to paying for A LOT of therapy for both boys? Ugh.

  4. Thanks all. I appreciate all the different insights, and challenges. The sibling dynamics take so many different forms.

    Karianna, the younger-sibling-as-older-sibling dynamic is coming out in our house as well, and is part of what Mali is finding so challenging.

    Rebecca, the zone defense with three is exhausting. That part at least will get easier as your daughter gets older and more independent. At least it has for us.

    Anonymous, is your eldest conversational? Can he articulate why he's angry and mean? If not, it might be worth getting a consult to help you find the root, and come up with ways to help him understand or redirect those emotions.

  5. Anonymous6:48 AM

    Hi Squid, Oh yea is he conversational. We've been working with the same therapist for a couple of years. He's able to state quite clearly that his brother is annoying. It's mostly a sensory thing, but getting him to take that second breath before he hits or screams or shoves his brother's head into the ground is the challenge. I guess the positive is that we've got good reflexes, but you're right. We just don't leave them alone. I think our oldest will get there, but hopefully not at the cost of a traumatized brother. Love your blog! It reaches all the way to the upper midwest. Hugs.


Respectful disagreement encouraged.

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