their hands are full
I don’t want to be a brat
but we need more than clothing on our backs
That’s just how life is
When you’re the other three kids
The lines above are from a rock musical called Day After Day by Steven Allen, playing in the New Jersey area now but perhaps coming to a community theatre near you soon. You can get a flavor of the music here. Brings tears to our eyes–to research the emotions and challenges, this guy interviewed real families with autism. He’s nailed it.
But the sentiment is true. A family member with a pervasive condition such as autism often sucks up the spare energy and attention of the available parents. Particularly when the autistic child is second or third in line, this impacts the existing children pretty hard. “The other three kids” are relegated to afterthoughts, perhaps at a vulnerable time in their lives, when parents would normally be closely supervising where they go, who they’re with. After dealing with the complications of their one child’s day, many parents may just be glad their other children don’t have special diets and TSS to juggle. They’re left on their own.
I’m not less guilty of this than anyone else. My daughter K was in junior high school when we received our double whammy diagnoses on the children. We couldn’t pick her up from activities because we had to be at OT or speech, or had to be home for the TSS to come; she had to find her own ride if she wanted to participate. We delayed family trips because we weren’t sure the children could handle things. We expected her to babysit often when we simply had to get a break.
Did it change the course of our lives, K and me? Most teenagers begin to separate from their parents at that age, keep things private, spend more time with their friends. Inspired by her drama teacher, she was an above average student who became the school’s stage manager her junior year, responsible for both school performances and rentals. She fell in love. She wrote a senior project about autism–nearly an expert by then. She carried a college class each of her two senior semesters. She can change the oil or a tire in her car, install a dishwasher, rewire the fuse box…
But she did this with minimal attention from me. Clothing on her back, sure. What she needed? Yes. Maybe not everything she would have wanted. Damage control on the little ones took precedence.
The story is the same with my grown daughters, my grandchildren. If I didn’t have these children with issues, I’d be a very different Nana. I’d actually remember birthdays on time, and have the ability to travel to visit them in their far-flung homes.
What’s the answer? I don’t know. Third parties can be a blessing–like K’s drama teacher. Grandparents, especially those too freaked out by the children with autism, can spend their attention on the others. Extended family, friends, churches could play a part.
We tend to isolate ourselves, we parents of autism, feeling overwhelmed and not wanting to deal with one more thing. But we need to remember…the Other Three Kids.