Thursday, January 5, 2012

Sometimes, Autism Doesn't Always Get to Be the Excuse

The insult came seemingly out of nowhere, hurled across the room in my direction, meeting its intended target.


I looked at my 10 year old daughter, blinked, dared her to repeat her words.

"WHAT, exactly, did you just say?"

The Husband took off his headphones, seeing my "this means business" expression.  I had heard Betty loud and clear and I whispered her remark to him. His eyes widened.

"I SAID," Betty hollered. "that I wish you never gave birth to THAT. AUTISTIC. CHILD."

That autistic child, meaning her twin brother.

* * *
Ironically, this followed almost immediately on the heels of something that has become somewhat more commonplace but still rare enough to cause us to exchange who are these kids? glances - the two of them playing together, laughing, seemingly enjoying each other's company.

(That'll teach us to enjoy the moment.  Fools, us.)

Shortly thereafter, though, Betty realized she'd forgotten she still had some reading homework.  I didn't think to remind her because she had been reading in the morning. (She has trouble recognizing that if her teacher says to read 20 minutes at night and she's already banked 10 minutes in the morning, then she only needs to do another ten more minutes.  At least that's how it works according to my math.)

So, naturally, playing with her brother + forgetting her homework = her reading time being screwed up.

Which became his fault.

Because he has autism.

Which became my fault.

Bruno Bettelheim, meet my daughter.

* * *
I surprised myself (and probably The Husband) with how calm I was in the face of Betty's remark. (Meds. They do a body good.) And those of you who know me well and who know the circumstances and story surrounding the twins' birth probably can understand exactly how many buttons that 10 year old managed to push with those 10 words.

But there's a part of me that sees myself in my daughter, recognizes my own self when I hear her blaming the autism for things and circumstances that really aren't the autism's fault to begin with. Understands all too well what she is feeling when she says she wishes she could stop herself sometimes from getting too angry or saying things that she doesn't always mean.

* * *
The Husband left the room to do damage control in the bedroom where the kids had just moments before been laughing and dancing to some show on the Disney channel.  He wanted to find out what Boo had possibly overheard. ("Betty said something that got Mommy a little mad.  Not a lot mad, but a little mad. And it sounded like Betty doesn't like me.")

Meanwhile, I was left with a thrashing dervish in the living room who was cursing autism.

"I know you have a lot more to deal with than other kids," I said. "I know it's hard dealing with Boo's autism and all that goes with it. But in this case, Boo's autism didn't make you forget to do your homework."

"He was acting silly BECAUSE HE HAS THE STUPID AUTISM and that made me forget, so it's the autism's fault!"

"Sorry, that's not gonna fly with me. At some point, you need to take some responsibility. You knew you had the homework to do and you were watching TV and playing instead."

More pouting.  More tears. Finally, an apology.  "I'll never say that again, Mommy."

"Good.  Because you know, Betty, sometimes autism doesn't always get to be the excuse."

* * *
This all happened Tuesday night. And truthfully, this is just the latest incident of this sort that we've dealt with lately.  I've spent a lot of time thinking about this, about how this anger of Betty's seemed to have taken a hiatus over the holidays, about how I too in the past have resorted to blaming the autism in certain situations when I knew that the blame needed to be all mine. Still, the recognition of that is being older (by 32 years) than my girl and having a hell of lot more years of therapy on her.  (We do have Betty seeing someone, but as The Husband and I discussed, a change is probably in order.)

In other times, I would have made my own excuses. It's a phase.  It will pass. It's not as big of a deal as you're making it out to be.  You know, all siblings fight.  But this feels different because Boo's different. He understands more, about emotions, about feelings.  His confidence is growing, in leaps and bounds.  He's asking questions. Perhaps most incredibly, he's giving and asking for hugs - constantly.  This from the boy who not too long ago shunned all kinds of physical contact. He's coming into his own person, discovering who he is, forming his own sense of self.

So, in the meantime, as we try to find the right programs and the right resources for both of our kids in the midst of this new community of ours, we do what we can. (I've been trying desperately - in vain, it appears - to find some semblance of a SibShop type of group here in the Pittsburgh area. No luck.)

We muddle through.  We talk.

We re-affirm our rule that we do not call each other names.

We talk some more.

We do the work.  Or try to.

Because there's no excuse not to.

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.


Michelle (Red Headed Book Child) said...

I am thankful that there are people in the world as wonderfully eloquent and smart and honest like you. My best friend has 4 adopted kids with special needs and he always says, "Don't effin' put me on a pedestal! Please! I screw up all the time!" All I can say to that and to you, though, it that your moments like these are honest and refreshing to read. I think you are just super.

Tessa said...

It is scary how much this post resonated with me. I have nine year old boy/girl twins. He has autism, and she...doesn't. I have heard these same kinds of comments from her, too. In a way, your post makes me feel better--that these feelings are normal. I don't have any advice, being in the same boat myself. In fact, Lauren once told me that she is never having kids because she doesn't want to have a child with autism. Ouch. I can't tell you how badly I wish I could "fix" it. I understand. And if Betty ever wants a pen pal who gets it too, you let me know, and I'll message you my address.

Kelly said...

Hugs to you, Melissa. The sibling dynamics has been such a tough part of our journey. We've not had that exact situation, but we've had plenty with an undercurrent that seems to be the same. It's often hard to decipher the "all siblings squabble" stuff from the "this is something different" stuff. I guess I really don't have any advice or wonderfully encouraging words to offer...just that you are most definitely not alone. I think all we really can do is keep trying. Keep looking for resources to help, keeping dialogue open, and encouraging them to love each other.

Peppermint Ph.D. said...

We don't deal with autism...but we deal with OCD and anxiety issues...unfortunately for my two older daughters, the regular growing up stuff gets in the way sometimes and it's hard to decide what's everyday sibling rivalry and what's the result of their mental/emotional issues. I feel for you. I don't know what we'd do without our therapist. She's even seen me a time or two alone when I've reached that point of jumping off a bridge trying to help my girls...their issues are related but manifest in different ways. Yeesh. Hang in there.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

Your no-nonsense approach can teach all of us a lesson or two ... it's often easier to place blame where it doesn't belong, or expect to be excused due to circumstances.

Stay strong!

Alison said...

What an interesting post! My daughter doesn't have a sibling, but I was thinking about my own childhood as I read, and I recognized my desire as a kid to push big buttons. If there was a big button that would cause the household to go into freaked-out turmoil, one of us kids would push it when we got frustrated.

It sounds to me like what you did was didn't let autism be a big button.

Holly (2 Kids and Tired) said...

My youngest is Asperger's. My oldest is really good with him and they get along well, but I know he gets frustrated a lot. We have our struggles, but communication is key and I think you and your husband handled it well. Thank you for your honesty in sharing it.

Book Dragon said...

hugs to you, you're wonderful!

just a thought, is someone teasing her at school about her brother? like I said, just a thought....

always looking forward to see your posts

Melissa said...

Thanks so much, everyone. I debated hitting publish on this one, but I'm glad I did. As an update, I think I've found a SibShop for Betty that's local (I thought we might have to go to Cleveland, and I'm sorry, but Pittsburgh folks don't go to Cleveland :) and there's another nice development in the works too.

Tessa, I noticed your Lauren has a blog too ... I'll show it to Betty. She'll love it. (She has a blog at

Michelle (Red Headed) - your friend is so right. We're not pedestal-worthy. Not by a long shot.

Book Dragon - I thought of that. I don't think so (they have a really strong, no tolerance bullying program at their school; it's more than lip service, it seems - they don't take any crap) but it's possible. I'll explore that some more though with her.

Thanks again, everyone ....