Helping To Understand A Brother Who Has Aspergers
I have a brother with Aspergers. For those who don’t know, Aspergers is a life long developmental condition where a person views and interacts with the world around them in a different way to most people. My brother is now 11 years old and with a 6 year age gap, we have been close ever since he was very little. By the age of 2, it had become pretty evident to everyone in our family that he wasn’t like other toddlers. Being the 3rd child, he wasn’t exactly following the norms myself and my younger sister had. He always had so much energy, never slept and was always so difficult. When he started school, he was regularly in trouble for misbehaviour ranging from disruption to destruction and even aggression. Every day, my parents would be having phone calls from teachers despairing at that day’s antics. It must have been very tiring for everyone. Luckily our primary school was very supportive in getting my brother a diagnosis and with lots of understanding he now copes really well at school.
Life can be very challenging for anyone with a sibling with additional needs. There have been times when we can’t visit somewhere as a family as my parents knew my brother would end up spoiling it for everyone because he couldn’t cope. I’ve often been hit out at by my brother when he has lost control and he breaks our possessions when he gets frustrated. Trying to remember this is my brother’s condition and not my brother himself controlling that behaviour is helpful in those situations.
Of course there are upsides to having a sibling with Aspergers, for example when my brother loves you, he loves you immensely and without prejudice. He is also incredibly smart - he absorbs information like a passionate sponge if it is something he is interested in! We do have language barriers between us sometimes as he has very different ways of communicating to you or I and he misses the small social cues such as body language or voice indicators, but this can be funny and he has his own special sense of humour which makes us all laugh.
If you are trying to understand better your own sibling with Aspergers, I have devised a few tips which may help you.
Do Your Own Research
Your parents will probably have a ‘talk’ with you at some point, but nothing beats learning about it all in your own time and in your own way. Search the internet for information - reading blogs about other people’s experiences is a great way of feeling you are not alone. First-hand accounts from some people who have Aspergers themselves can be very interesting. I would absolutely recommend looking at some non-profit organisations like AANE. Maybe finding an organisation closer to home that you could even take part in would help support the whole family in understanding better - the best way to learn about other people is to hear from them, their families and the professionals that work with them.
Give Time For Developing Social Skills
Though all aspergers children are different, a common trait is that they will struggle with making friends. Many aspergers children (and adults) suffer with anxieties, specifically social anxieties, which could lead them to appear shy or anti-social, even just at family gatherings. I know in my own experience that my brother doesn’t always seem present at birthday parties and such like, he tends to keep to himself and disappears to his room when he has had enough interaction. He also doesn’t really go out with friends much. However, you absolutely cannot force him into those situations as it will make him feel uncomfortable and may even lead to a meltdown, but in his own time he will perhaps want to join in on his own terms. You can support your sibling with this by helping to recognise the cues that mean he is getting too uncomfortable (he may not always even recognise them himself until it is too late and he loses emotional control) and steer him away from the atmosphere for a break. You can also help other people to understand why your sibling needs some time out to refocus and remain in control by explaining to them what is happening on your sibling’s behalf.
Recognising Sensory IssuesThis follows on from the previous point - people with Aspergers experience things differently in all manners of the senses. With sight, they might find comfort in fairy lights in their bedroom as a main light may be too much for their eyes. With sound they might be frightened of loud noises, or they may need to make a sound to fill any silence as no noise is unbearable to them. With smell they might have a very strong sense of smell, or none at all. With touch they might find comfort in a silky or fluffy blanket, feeling something against their face, or they may not be able to stand the feel of clothing on their bodies, and with taste they might not be able to eat any kind of spicy food, or may gag from different textures. It all varies from person to person but recognising what senses are particularly sensitive could help you prevent them from having a meltdown at dinner time or in the middle of Lush.
Sticking To A Routine
Often times, including new things into someone with Aspergers day will overwhelm them as they find a lot of comfort with routine, like most of us do. If you know you have family plans which involve your sibling doing something new, like taking a holiday, lots of talking about it and what to expect can help them. You can show them photos from the internet or youtube videos to help reduce their anxiety as often fear of the unknown is a huge part of the issue.
With having a routine that’s so important to them, they will find breaks in the routine quite distressing and so during these times it would be good to keep more of an eye on them, especially places where your parents can’t access, like at school. New classrooms, a change of teacher or even a friend being off sick can be enough to cause your sibling real stress so words of encouragement or including them in your own peer group can help. Some children can become a target for bullies, and whilst I would never suggest directly standing up bullies yourself (this could make the situation even more unbearable for the victim), you can always tell a teacher or someone you trust and help sort it out that way.
Showing Interest In Their Passions
It’s quite common for people with aspergers to be very passionate about one or more things, often times video games or a specific TV show. While it’s good to be able to enjoy something, and I definitely think that their interests should be encouraged to some extent, they can also have incredibly addictive personalities, which can lead to obsessions. However, if the interest develops in a healthy manner, it will provide entertainment to an otherwise difficult to entertain child and could even lead to a successful career path in the future.
An easy way to bond with anyone with Aspergers is to take part in their interests and encourage them to invest more into it. My brother had an absolute adoration for the Disney film Cars when he was younger. We used to play games together with his toy cars and watch the films at least once a week. Though now he has moved on from this particular interest, I’m sure we both still look back on those times with fondness.
Look After Yourself Too!
You have to protect your own feeling and emotions as well for your own well-being. Recognising the things that trigger uncomfortable feelings during social interaction in your sibling, can stop you feeling rejected or hurt. Often times, it is eye contact and being touched. This can be upsetting as when your brother won’t even look at you when you’re talking, it can make you feel like he doesn’t care for what you have to say to him. However you must understand that it really isn’t anything personal to you, it’s just what he finds more comfortable.
Dealing with all your siblings needs can sometimes make you feel like you are always on high alert – waiting to defuse the next situation or spotting issues and reducing their impact before your sibling sees them. It can be exhausting! You need to make sure you take regular breaks too to recharge your own batteries. The onus is not on you – you are still a kid yourself! So if family offer you a night away at your friends or a weekend with your grandparents away from your sibling, don’t feel guilty, just take the chance and enjoy your time away. Find your own passions and indulge in those too. You are not just someone’s brother or sister - you are your own person.
To conclude, probably the most important thing to remember about trying to understand Aspergers is that everyone who has it is utterly different, and just like any other person, it is important to respect their space and their interests. Ultimately the best thing for them that you can do is make sure they know they’re loved and accepted for exactly who they are.
Your sibling may learn to manage his emotions better as he grows, learn how to interact with people better even, but he will probably never be able to totally change the way he is, and why should he have to? We should all be accepting him for who he is and putting in the extra effort to understand from his point of view how the world works because different views only make the world a more beautiful place.