Dear Sib of someone with autism:
Good friends of mine introduced me to a new TV show: Flashpoint. It features a Strategic Response Unit (SRU), an elite police team that responds to uniquely stressful situations. One episode features a 17-year-old boy, named Paul, who plans an elaborate gun-buying scheme. All this culminates in Paul holding a girl at gunpoint. In order more effectively disarm Paul, the team leader gathers information from his troubled mother and considers the possibility that Paul might have autism. He also discovers that the tight relationship that Paul had with his sister, Franny, had recently turned sour.
Let me skip some details for now, but don’t worry. Everything turns out fine. Paul is disarmed; the SRU team rescues the victim; the mother learns that her son is not a psychopath but has a condition that, with the right supports and services, would not hinder him from leading a fulfilling life. The writers of this episode deliver an entertaining show, but, to be honest, I was disappointed. I wanted to ask the writers: why did you leave Franny in the dark at the end? Doesn’t she deserve a chance, as the Sib, to learn the things that her mom learned about Paul?
As a Sib with a younger sister with autism, I am aware of the progress society has made in understanding autism, developing tools for earlier diagnosis and intervention, and passing legislation that moves from institutionalization to community integration. This all contributes to real and measurable benefits for those with autism. To say the least, this is worthy of celebration.
However, my fellow Sib, society still habitually forgets the role we play in the lives of our brothers and sisters with autism. We cannot let this remain as the status quo. We were the ones in the playground with them. We were the ones who fought with them, whether it was for toys or our parents’ attention. As adults, we are the ones teaching them how to manage money, how to think about the opposite gender and how to get a job. We deserve a chance to be heard and taken seriously. Also, it is in society’s best interest that we are equipped to invest in our brothers and sisters in the unique way that only we can.
On the night of the last day of Autism Awareness month, I tip my hat to you, Sib.
You are awesome. Continue doing what only you can do.
A fellow Sib,