How Do I Explain My Autistic Child’s Mental Health To My Younger Kids?

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I grew up with a big sister named Olivia, who always acted strangely for as long as I could remember. We had a five-year age gap, so she should be reading and writing when I entered preschool. However, I could remember Mom teaching us how to do that together, and it was often I who could answer our mother’s questions. Sometimes, Olivia would sit in front of the blackboard quietly; other times, she would begin to wail when Mom acted stern and then flip our little tables, tear our papers, and break our crayons.

In my young mind, I thought Olivia’s actions were ordinary, especially since Mom and Dad never got angry or scolded my big sister. Whenever she had a meltdown, I noticed how they would take a deep breath and exhale as slowly as possible with their eyes closed. Once my sister had calmed down, they would clean up after her and even smile sweetly at her. So, when I acted up when Mom gave me broccoli for the first time and threw the food on the floor, I was so shocked when she yelled at me and told me to go to my room and repent for wasting food like that.

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That was perhaps the first time I felt resentment toward my family. I resented my mother for scolding me for something that my big sister always did. It was not food that she wasted but also clothes, art materials, and grandma’s plants in the backyard. They shook their heads, but they did not say a word.

Of course, I also resented Olivia during that time. I wondered why my parents treated her like an untouchable all the time. They could not bear to scold her or put her on timeout; whatever she did seemed acceptable to them. It did not even seem to bother them when she peed in her pants every time she got mad.

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Understanding The Situation

I stayed resentful towards my family for a couple of years. I felt like Olivia was the favored child in the house, so I tried to distance myself from everyone and not show any emotion. For instance, when my mother made me stay on the porch after my big sister took my favorite pen and I screamed “like a maniac,” I did so without begging Mom to let me back inside. It did not matter if the mosquitoes had my blood for lunch and snacks; I just remained there without crying or frowning. I only went in around dinnertime when my father picked me up and took me back to the house.

My resentment evaporated, though, when I entered middle school. One of our topics was autism disorder back then. During the lecture, the teacher said, “It is often challenging to figure out who has autism based on face value alone. Even doctors take months or years to diagnose someone with this condition. But you can notice some of the common symptoms, such as being unable to communicate, learning slower than their peers, living in their own world, and throwing meltdowns like a little child at any age.”

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I went home on that day and asked Mom and Dad if Olivia had autism, considering those were the same symptoms I saw in her for years. They came clean, embarrassed for not telling me sooner. “We did not know how to explain it to a child,” Mom uttered. “Your father and I don’t even understand autism. We just try our best to raise your sister well.”

One Out Of My Three Kids Ended Up With Autism

My relationship with my parents and Olivia improved instantly. I understood my big sister and helped look after, even though I was much younger. This experience allowed me to handle things better when I had kids, and my eldest child ended up getting diagnosed with autism-like Olivia.

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Ever since I learned about it, I reacted in the opposite way that Mom and Dad did – I talked about it to my two younger children. I did not give them the medical jargon; I merely said, “Listen, guys, I hope you will always play with Jess and not get mad when she throws a tantrum. Your big sister does not feel well, so you should be there for her.” Luckily, I raised great kids. Though they were still young, they did as I asked. I even found out that the little ones acted as Jess’s bodyguards at school and looked out for her all the time.

Final Thoughts

No matter how complicated autism is to talk about in front of children, you should do it. Keeping them in the dark for an extended period might cause them to resent their ill sibling as I did with my sister Olivia. I regretted feeling that way when I found out about her condition, and I carried that with me even now.

If you explain your autistic child’s mental health to their siblings, you can protect their mental health, too.