Monday, June 16, 2014

Just makes me wonder...

I have participated in many conversations about the role of siblings in families of children with autism. These brothers and sisters can be miniature experts in autism with an extensive and seemingly innate understanding of their brother or sister, and I wonder how often their opinions are valued.

Of the several children's books that I've read since the end of 2013 which feature autism in a family setting, several of them have been written from the perspective of a sibling. One of my favourites is Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko because it addresses, among other issues, the value of such sibling insight.

It is 1935, and Moose Flanagan, who is twelve years old, lives with his family on Alcatraz Island. The following passage describes Moose and his older sister, Natalie.
Nat has the kitchen chair pulled into the living room, wedged between three crates. "Hey, Natalie, the sun get up okay this morning?" I ask like I do every morning.
She never answers, which used to really bug me...One day last year, I got so mad, I just walked right by her, didn't say anything. Not one word.
That day, after I left for school, my mom said Natalie sat outside my room and cried for two straight hours. Natalie isn't a crier, she's a screamer. You never see her cry for plain old hurt. I'd say my mom made it all up, but she didn't know I'd snubbed Natalie. My mom had no idea why Natalie had cried.
Now I ask Natalie about the sun every morning and it only bothers me a little when she doesn't answer.
(my journal 6/12/14)
So, while the parents and some hired professionals -- who have, perhaps, inadvertently allowed the desire to achieve a goal to overshadow the goal itself -- try to reach Natalie to instruct her in the rules of normative communication, Moose has already forged a relationship with his sister, has genuinely connected with her, precisely because he understands how she interacts as well as how she both receives and conveys information.

I am, by no means, an expert in autism, but it makes me wonder if Moose might be one of the best people in his sister's life to help her learn other methods of communicating, if only his parents could see what he sees...


Al Capone Does My Shirts
(A Tale from Alcatraz)
Gennifer Choldenko
Ages: 9-12
April 2006

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