Monday, May 2, 2016

Clueless: Part Two

Chase, Jimmy, and Frog
For me to explain the effect of having a sibling with autism, I would have to be that sibling. At times I know it couldn’t have been easy for Jim—now an adult—to have an older brother with autism, but I can only tell you what I observed.  
Because Jimmy had a naturally outgoing personality, I thought it would inspire Chase to come out of his shell, but his autism affected the way he responded to everyone, including his little brother. As far as big brothers go, Jimmy might have felt slighted. For instance, when he found a frog and showed it to his brother, he might have expected a high five. Instead he heard nonsense sounds like AAA or EEE, or silly sentences strung together by random words. One I remember that makes me laugh now—Happy seatbelt day—had been embarrassing at the time. What did this actually mean? I have no clue. Perhaps he was excited about a car ride, but when said randomly like in a supermarket it was total lunacy. I can’t imagine how his little brother felt.     
When Chase started special classes at an elementary school, four-year-old Jimmy seemed lonely. We live in the same rural neighborhood where he grew up, and few friends lived nearby. Occasionally I arranged play dates with other children, or took him to a park, but that wasn’t enough to keep Jimmy busy. As a remedy, we enrolled him in pre-school.
We chose St. Helena Cooperative Nursery School. First built in 1888, it was a sturdy old building with a working chapel bell on top. Over the years it had housed a number of schools, but it became the Co-op in 1966. Because parents helped to run the school it was affordable, and Jimmy attended for two years. His second term was tuition-free, because I was able to work as the school’s treasurer.
 The first morning I looked forward to dropping Jimmy off and waving goodbye. I certainly could use the ME time. Not so fast, Mommy. Kathy, the school’s director and her assistant, Darlene, invited me to join their morning circle. We introduced ourselves, sang songs, and were given the rundown of the day’s activities. Afterward Jimmy and I said our goodbyes. I was a bit miffed at how easy it was for him, but I knew he was excited to get on with the playing.
I always thought a mother shouldn’t make comparisons between her children, but I couldn’t help remembering Chase on his first day of pre-school. His handicapped class scared me. It had been heart-breaking to watch the children try to respond to each other. Some were so limited in their capacity to understand what was happening that I had wondered how it could help them to try. Just to think of my son’s inclusion in that class had been painful, but in my heart I knew he needed to belong there for a time. Giving up was not an option.
By comparison, watching Jimmy adapt so completely, so willingly, was heart-warming. I enjoyed his circle activities as much as he did. Still I was a young mother and had just as much to learn in pre-school as my son.   

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