Wednesday, January 30, 2013

He's my brother

In the past few days I have seen three beautiful stories about boys with autism, and the bond they have with a sibling. I was especially moved by a video I saw yesterday about a young man named Spencer Timme, whose older brother has autism. Here’s the link: 

In one of my previous posts called “birth order and siblings have made a difference,” from May 12, 2012, I talked about how beneficial it has been for Tate to interact and be taught by his siblings. You can go to that post and read some specific lessons Tate’s siblings have taught him. Here's the link: 

Tate would definitely be an entirely different person if he did not have siblings. Spencer says in the video, “Not one person understands him the way I do,” I completely understand what Spencer is saying. Tate’s siblings know his quirks and what he likes and doesn’t like.  Understanding autism isn’t easy but Tate’s siblings have become quite the experts. Connecting with Tate is difficult. To communicate with Tate you have to be able to think like Tate. I don’t mean you have to have autism. I mean you have to think about what Tate is thinking about (or NOT thinking about) and understand how important the unimportant things are in his world.  His anxieties and obsessions are often in the way. If he is focused on an m&m that he dropped and cannot retrieve, you are not going to be able to talk to him about anything else until that HUGE problem is resolved. Eight hours later he may still be bringing up that m&m and you have to understand how important that lost piece of candy was to him. Minimizing an event like lost candy, while NOT minimizing the anxiety over the lost candy is like a tight-rope-walk. Tate lives in a very small world and he likes it that way. He doesn’t enjoy new experiences. He knows the name of a very few people and interacts with very few people. You have to be a very important person in Tate’s world before he will remember your name…or a cartoon character. He never forgets a cartoon character.  Ha!

Birth order plays a role in the way any child develops but being one of the youngest of seven has given Tate many advantages. His older siblings have helped him to grow and cultivate many of his skills. They push him to try new things and they often provide him with experiences he could not have had without them. They expand his small world by forcing new experiences on him. They bring their many friends and activities into Tate’s world too. Tate doesn’t always welcome these things but we don’t allow him to choose. If he were in charge, he’d never leave the living room and the television set, except to visit the kitchen. One evening this past week, Tate led our evening prayer and he asked God to “get Levi out of my life.” After the “amen,” we told Tate it was not kind to ask God to eliminate a brother, but we were all struggling to keep a straight face. It seems Levi had walked through Tate’s room a couple of times that evening to retrieve something and Tate had not taken kindly to Levi being in his room. Levi’s trespass was on Tate’s mind, and like the lost m&m, it could not be disregarded by Tate. Tate’s fury over Levi’s infraction is especially funny because the boys have shared a room for the majority of Tate’s life. Levi is never unkind to Tate and has taught Tate many things, but Tate has become very territorial about the bedroom. I suppose I can look at the bright side.  Tate is not anxious about being left alone in the room. He loves the independence.  Looking at the bright side is just another thing we have all learned, courtesy of Tate. 

Of course, Tate has one younger sibling, and that has advantages as well. Sydney is a great teacher. She and Tate are on similar levels in some academic and developmental areas right now. I know it won’t be long until Sydney becomes an “older sibling” to Tate, instead of a younger sibling though. She can already do things that he cannot. She communicates better than he does and her motor skills far exceed his. Today at school, Tate was asked to explain who Sydney was. Of course, the expected answer would have been, “She is my sister.” Tate did not give the expected answer. He said, “She is a kid from Russia.” Who else would describe their little sister of eight years as “a kid from Russia” but Tate? She was born in Russia. But, was “a kid from Russia” the RIGHT answer? Not really. It is misleading. Tate just doesn’t get the whole “communication thing.” In the first place, he probably did not understand WHY he had to explain who Sydney was because of the “theory of mind” thing I have blogged about before. He doesn’t understand why you cannot SEE what he sees and think what he thinks. He assumes that everything he knows, you also know. Therefore, why would anyone not know who Sydney is? In the second place, Tate doesn’t see the importance of developing peer relationships or having conversations and sharing information. So, he probably didn’t care if anyone else understood what he was saying or not. He was only attempting to have a conversation at all because it was part of a social skills lesson his mom and teachers insist he takes part in as part of his school day. Thirdly, Tate cannot separate the details from the main ideas. He gets caught up in trivial information. Instead of telling someone the plot of the story, he wants to talk about the tiny detail in one scene. We see this happen all the time and it is typical of people with autism. 

In the video, Spencer Timme says of his brother: “He has the ability to make everyone around him happy” and  “He makes me a better person.” I think Tate’s siblings would say the same thing of him. My heart swells when I see Tate’s siblings interact with him. He keeps us laughing. He makes us all so happy. He is sweet. He is funny. He has taught us all how to be better people. Who doesn’t need someone like that in his (or her) life? Who wouldn’t want to have a brother that helps them to be a better person?   

Update! Spencer made another video!
Spencer Timme's Second Video 

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