His Brother’s Keeper


It is a cold snowy afternoon, and the boys have just finished doing their homework. George – eleven years old now and as tall as me – is sitting on the couch trying not to cry. I am on the floor with my back up against the couch, holding his foot in my lap. I start ministering to his sore toe as gently as I can, knowing that no matter how hard I try, it’s going to hurt.

For the last couple of weeks, George has been plagued by an ingrown toenail. He was at the doctor earlier in the week – a feat in itself for this boy with autism who finds doctors to be mysterious and scary – and I am carefully following the care-and-cleaning instructions that I have been given.

He tries so hard to be brave as I clean and bathe his toe, but he cannot help getting distressed. As he cries out in pain, James suddenly appears in front of us. James – nine years old and full of energy – is just in from throwing snow in the back yard. His gaze moves from his brother on the couch to me on the floor surrounded by First Aid supplies.

“I want to do it,” he says.

“You want to do what?” I ask, not understanding.

“George’s toe,” he says. “I want to do it. George is my brother. I’m the one who gets to take care of him.”

I regard my son, blown away yet again by how much love and compassion is within him. I think about the practicalities of him dressing George’s toe and how I have already been kicked several times during these First Aid sessions. I don’t want James to get hurt.

But my Spidey-sense is telling me to listen to James. I switch places with him, and following my instructions, he calmly takes care of George’s toe. George is still crying but he is visibly less distressed. Maybe James’s small, light fingers are gentler than mine. Or maybe George is responding to the love of his brother.

James uses a little bit too much of the antiseptic lotion, and the dressing and bandage are a little haphazardly applied. But none of that matters next to the waves of kindness that are radiating from James.

With the job done, James gently kisses the newly applied bandage and gets onto the couch.

“You’re my George,” he says, wrapping his arms around his brother.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit to the author.


Brotherly Love

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Last week, George lost his footing while trying to climb a tree, and he had a nasty fall. There was no lasting damage, but there were some scary-looking cuts and scrapes. That night, George had a hard time sleeping, probably because he was aching all over and couldn’t find a comfortable position to lie in.

We decided to keep him home from school the next day. He was a little shaken and we felt that he needed time to recover, and a cut on his back was looking kind of angry. While James was puttering around getting ready for school, George was lying on the couch looking a little the worse for wear.

James, who had been present when George had fallen, was deeply concerned. He fussed around his brother, covering him with a blanket, making sure the TV was tuned to George’s favourite channel, and bringing him some of his Mr. Potato Heads to play with.

It was really very sweet, watching James take care of his brother with such obvious love and care. Being the sibling of a child with autism must be so hard at times, and I know that George sometimes drives James around the bend. But James’ compassion for George never wavers.

When we went to the grocery store yesterday, George started melting down. Although grocery store meltdowns are far less common than they used to be, they are harder to control. George is a tall-for-his-age nine-year old, and it’s not as easy to physically contain him as it was when he was, say, five. My husband and I were debating whether one of us would have to take him out of the store, but then James saved the day by letting George play with his Leap Pad.

This was just the distraction that George needed, and from that point he quite happily walked around the store with us while we got what we needed to get.

All James had to say about this was, “The only thing that makes me happy is if George is happy.”

And that, it would seem, is what brotherhood is all about.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)


Autism: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

When my firstborn son was first diagnosed with autism five years ago, the force of it all was like a kick in the head. I honestly did not know how I was going to live the rest of my life as an autism parent, especially with the doom-and-gloom picture that was presented to us by the diagnosing doctor.

But life has an uncanny way of continuing, no matter what. We adapt and survive, and sometimes we even manage to see the positives in a situation that is, by most people’s standards, less than ideal.

The Good

* Every moment of accomplishment is a cause for celebration. I have a true appreciation for what most people think are “the little things”.

* My son can problem-solve rings around the rest of us. His thinking is at times very effective while also being wayyyyy out of the box. It offers a whole new perspective on life.

* My two boys have a healthy amount of sibling rivalry going on, but they also have a great deal of love for each other. My younger son’s empathy and kindness toward his brother that has to be seen to be believed. It makes me well up with tears every time.

* Let’s face it, many kids with autism are computer geeks. And it’s very handy having a built-in computer geek.

* I believe that having a child with autism makes me a better and more patient parent.

* Kids with autism can have funny, quirky senses of humour that take you where you least expect to go.

* Hugs from kids with autism can be the absolute best.

The Bad

* When my child is trying with all his might to express something and doesn’t know how to, the look of frustration and desperation in his eyes is heartbreaking.

* Sometimes my younger son tells me that he wishes his brother didn’t have autism. There are no words to describe how that feels.

* Autism is unbelievably, phenomenally exhausting, and that’s just for me. I cannot imagine what it must sometimes be like for my son.

* There is a lot of frustration involved in advocating for my child in the school system. The vast majority of teachers are genuinely good and caring people who mean well, but a lot of them just don’t get it.

* I worry about my son’s future every single day. Will he ever be able to brush his teeth and take a shower independently? Will he ever learn to look both ways before crossing the street? Will he be bullied in high school? Will he be given the same opportunities as other kids? Will he be OK when, someday, I am no longer here?

The Ugly

* There are holes in the drywall from all the headbanging incidents. They are not pretty.

* We are frequently the targets of people who stare and say rude things. They are not pretty either.

* As much as I think that autism has made me a better parent, I am only human, and sometimes I lose it. Big-time. I slam things and scream like a banshee.

* Sometimes, I have to battle my son’s autism and my depression at the same time, and it’s such a battle. I teeter on the edge of these big black pits of despair, and it is absolutely terrifying.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)


Challenges of Special Needs Parenting

This week, I am participating in the WEGO Health “Advocating for Another” carnival. Each day, there is a prompt that I answer in the form of a blog post. Although only George has the autism diagnosis, we also recognize the challenges faced by his little brother. All of my posts here this week are dedicated to him.

Today’s prompt: Challenge accepted! Parenting isn’t all sunshine and ice cream – it’s hard. Write a post that delves into 3 challenges that you face as a parent.

Me and my boys, September 2010

“That must be so hard.”

That is a common response when people find out that my son has autism. And they are right. It is hard, but not necessarily in the ways one might expect. Because as parents, we all do what we have to do. We all want the same things for our children, whether they have special needs or not. We try to keep our children safe, and for me, that sometimes means physically restraining my son to stop him from banging his head on the hardwood floor. We try to make sure they are reaching whatever potential they are capable of, and for our family, that entails intensive behavioural intervention, speech therapy, individual education plans, and navigating the special education system.

These things are challenging, and at times, heartbreaking. But I am so busy just doing what needs to be done that I don’t really give a lot of thought to the hardship factor of it all. At the end of the day, the reward is far greater than the challenge. We get the smiles, the hugs, the occasional leaps of progress that make it all worthwhile.

As full of bravado as I might sound, though, I am only human, and there are things about this whole special needs parenting gig that I wish I could be better at.

Managing the sibling connection

I often worry that James got a rough deal, being the brother of a kid with autism. So many things happen that, if I were in James’ shoes, I would be downright mad about. James, for instance, gets more timeouts than George, not only because he is more aware of what his behaviour should be like, but because George doesn’t really get discipline. I can explain to James until I’m blue in the face that the best way to punish George for bad behaviour is to simply ignore it, but how can a six-year-old be expected to understand that?

Then there are the times when James has to patiently stand by waiting for attention while I am dealing with one of George’s meltdowns. Those meltdowns, which involve George screaming in frustration and trying to bang his head on things, must be so frightening for James to see and hear. And yet this little kid waits patiently for whatever he needs, be it a cup of milk, or the answer to a question, or simply a comforting hug.

I try to make it up to James in other ways. I try to talk to him about George’s autism and what it means. There is no doubt in my mind that James adores his brother, and for the most part he seems to be happy. But I cannot help wondering just how well I am doing this parenting thing. How good a job am I doing of balancing the oft-conflicting needs of my two boys?

Managing the marital connection

When George was first diagnosed with autism just over five years ago, my doctor gave me a startling statistic. About 80% of couples who have children with special needs or chronic illnesses break up. I think that is unspeakably sad. I mean, when someone’s life is turned upside down by the reality of there being something wrong with their child, a strong spousal partnership could bring such comfort and take away that feeling of being all alone. But instead of coming closer together, many couples are ripped apart by their grief.

My husband and I both went through a process of grieving when we first discovered that George had autism. We had put together a beautiful picture of what our family life was going to be like, and in one swoop that picture was destroyed. At the time, we had no way of knowing that we would ultimately build a new picture – one very different to the original, but no less beautiful. All we knew was that we were crushed under the weight of what was going on.

Things got rough for us, but we survived. Together. We have our moments where things aren’t so great, but in the end we are partners, and we are in this together.

It can be so hard, though, to find the time and energy for one another. We are both working so hard to create the best possible lives for our boys, that sometimes we drift a little. At those times, we have to make the effort to drift towards each other.

Managing my own needs

I don’t claim to be anything special. I’m just a regular mom who happens to have a child with autism. I have a full-time job a one-hour commute away from home, I help out with my husband’s business, and I raise my kids. I cook, I clean, and I do laundry. I make sure the bills get paid and I try to get to bed at a reasonable hour each night.

I stay sane by running, and by writing. Occasionally, I even write stuff that makes sense. I love to write because it gives me a voice. I love to run because it provides a physical release from the stress, and because it gives me time to myself, to clear my head.

Here’s the thing, though: I am only one person, and no matter how well I manage my time, there are only 24 hours in one day. And when I start running out of time to do everything that needs to be done, the first thing to go is the stuff that I do for myself. Gaps start to appear in my blog. I submit archive pieces to the ezine I write for. I curtail training runs, or even – Lord forbid – cut them out altogether.

It’s as if my lowest priority in my life is myself. And I wonder if that is OK. Could those bills not be paid tomorrow instead of today? Will the world end if the laundry doesn’t get done right away? Does it matter that, once in a while, I’m grabbing something convenient from the freezer just so I can spend time taking care of myself?

I don’t know the answers. But I do think I do a reasonable job as a parent, and I am having the time of my life seeing my kids grow up.

(Photo credit: Holly Bannerman)


These Are A Few Of My Favourite Things

This week I am participating in the WEGO Health “Advocating for Another” carnival. Over the next few days, I will be answering blog prompts to talk about our life as an autism family. All of the posts on my blog this week are dedicated to my son James, in recognition for what an amazing brother he is.

Today’s prompt: A few of my favourite things – Write 5-10 of your favourite things about your loved one. Celebrate their uniqueness and be sure to tell us why those are your favourite things.

I make a big deal of the fact that my boys are great brothers to one another, and that is something that means a lot to me. I try to encourage a positive relationship between them in whatever ways I can. Today, though, I want to celebrate them as individuals.


A few of my favourite things about James

1. He is snuggly. When he is sleepy, or simply wants a cuddle, he climbs into my lap and his body relaxes completely against mine. At those moments, he is like my very own teddy bear, all softness and warmth. No matter how bad I might be feeling on any particular day, those snuggles bring a smile to my face. Because how could that not make me feel better?

2. He has a natural sense of empathy that goes beyond his own family. He truly cares about what is going on with other people, and he has an uncanny ability to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. This is one of the things that makes being around him such a magical experience.

3. He has a great imagination. His mind travels to places that would be beyond my wildest dreams. He creates stories about dragons and princesses, about magic toucans on faraway worlds, about unicorns that glitter and shimmer in the dark and fly to the tops of mountains. If you ever want to escape for a while, all you have to do is ask James to tell you a story.

4. He likes running. This interest may or may not stay with him, but for now, I am really enjoying the fact that he likes to go out for little jogs with me. Running was an interest that I shared with my dad, and to be able to share it with my son as well is tremendously special. It is a lot of fun, and it gives us a bit of time together, just the two of us.

5. He is passionate about what he believes in. OK, sometimes the passion comes across as a drama queen kind of attitude that drives me insane, but I love that James speaks his mind. I love the fact that he has strong opinions and a willingness to express them.

A few of my favourite things about George

1. Many people think that children with autism are not capable of affection, but George definitely is. He has a heart full of love and an endless supply of hugs for those dear to his heart. He is tall and gangly, but he is still just about able to clamber onto my lap for a hug. When he outgrows that ability, I will be truly sad.

2. He is a very funny kid. He finds humour in the oddest places and is so enthusiastic about it that we cannot help finding it absolutely hilarious. The humour is handily packaged with the most infectious laugh you ever heard. Once George gets going with his laughter, that’s it. You may as well cancel whatever plans you had because you’ll be too busy rolling around on the floor.

3. He’s a technogeek. Some people just have a knack for figuring out how things work, and George is one of them. When he was about five, I was trying to get the DVD player to work. George watched me wrestle with the thing for a while, and then he clicked his tongue impatiently, elbowed me out of the way, and pressed one button to get the movie going. It is useful to have a built-in tech support person.

4. He is determined. George has definitely inherited a stubborn streak that is in both me and in his dad. If he wants something, he will find a way to get it. There is no problem that he gives up on, and he can be very resourceful in how he goes about finding a solution. Sometimes this is not great from a parent’s point of view, but I love the fact that George just does not give up. On anything.

5. He has a fantastic memory. He only has to go somewhere once in order to know its location, what there is en route, and how long it should take to get there. It can be a little awkward when we’re trying to get from Point A to Point B and George knows where every single donut shop in between is, but if we’re ever in doubt we can just ask him for directions. Who needs a GPS when you have a child with autism in the car?

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)


A Portrait of Two Brothers

For the next week, I will be participating in the WEGO Health “Advocating for Another” blog carnival. As I talk about the joys and challenges of raising a child with autism, I also recognize the contributions – of which there are so many – of my younger son James. All of the posts that I publish here this week are dedicated to him.

Today’s prompt: Portrait Post – Write a descriptive portrait of your child/ren. Share qualities that make them, them – and include an image!

They lie curled up together on the bed, their identical-coloured curls tangled together on a single pillow bedecked in a Thomas the Train pillowcase. The larger of the two boys has his arm thrown casually but protectively over his little brother. These boys are both amazing individuals in their own right, but at times like this, it seems that one would not be complete without the other.

Although only one of the children has a diagnosis, I am an advocate for both of them.

On the left is George, almost nine years old. He is tall for his age: one of those long lanky kids who somehow manages to stay skinny despite eating startling quantities of food. He bears a strong physical resemblance to me: our noses are the same shape, our eyes are the same shade of blue, and when we’re tired, both of our left eyes droop ever so slightly in the corner.

George has autism. He has profound delays in speech and social communication, and he gets anxious – almost panicky – when an established routine is deviated from. He has trouble regulating his emotions, and will bang his head in frustration when he is unable to make us understand what it is that’s bothering him. There are times when I look into his eyes and see the depth of his frustration, his sadness, his desperation to communicate in ways that he is not able to. It’s as if he wishes he could emerge from his world, even if just for a moment.

There are times, though, when his world is a wonderful place. He can see patterns where the rest of don’t even know one exists. He sees beauty in numbers: he is comforted by their consistency and their power, and he has always outperformed typical kids of his age in math. If there’s a problem to be solved, he will solve it, albeit by a somewhat unconventional method. He has a quirky sense of humour along with the most infectious laugh you ever heard. When George laughs, the whole world really does laugh with him.

And he has the most beautiful, pure heart that is just bursting with love. I treasure the moments when he says in his sweet lyrical voice, “Go give Mommy a hug”, and then clambers onto my lap, drapes his gangly arms around my neck and buries his face in my hair.

On the right of the bed is James, who is six going on twenty-seven. He came flying into the world like a cannonball one cold Christmas afternoon, and he hasn’t stopped since. He is a bundle of dynamite who zings his way around life with a seemingly endless supply of energy. His face is bright and vibrant, brought to life by shiny blue eyes that view the world with wonder and curiosity.

It is hard for him, being the sibling of a child with autism. Things happen that he perceives to be unfair, but in spite of this, his love for his brother does not waver. He tells me that he loves George more than he loves me – and I am completely fine with that. When George is having a meltdown, James treats him with concern and compassion. Many times, he will be the first one to know what George is trying to say and what he needs. We sometimes see George seeking out the comfort of his brother – comfort that James is always ready to give.

James shows wisdom and empathy beyond his years. But when he wakes in the morning and sleepily climbs into my lap, his little body melts against mine and I am reminded that he is just a baby. He may be a little brother with a big brother’s role, but he needs to be nurtured, cared for, protected. We need to be make sure that as he grows up, his role as George’s brother is balanced by his identity as James, as an individual with his own hopes and dreams.

I worry about the future for both of my boys. They will each have their challenges to deal with, and their battles to fight.

But now, as they lie sleeping, they don’t have a care in the world. And that’s just the way it should be.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)


He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother

When I tell people that I have a child with autism, their immediate focus tends to be on what that must be like for me as a parent. Very few people have expressed any kind of compassion for my younger son – the neurotypical sibling. It’s not that people don’t care, they just don’t think about the challenges of the autism sibling until I bring up the subject. The truth is that the siblings can so easily be overlooked when, in a sense, they are special needs children themselves because of the roles they find themselves in.

I am calling this “James Week” on my blog. All of the posts that I publish here for the next seven days are dedicated to James, in honour of how utterly fantastic he is. I am so proud to be his mom.

Yesterday afternoon, George was crying. He was crying because he’d gotten into trouble – actual, real trouble that involved serious consequences. This is a big deal because it happens so rarely. We scold him, of course, and we don’t let him get away with stuff like headbutting his little brother. But thereal trouble – the kind that results in timeouts and the removal of computer privileges – we save for times when he has done something that could seriously compromise his safety or someone else’s.

Like the time he climbed a ladder onto the roof a few weeks ago. Or the time he hit his brother on the head with the business end of a garden hoe.

Yesterday’s transgression happened after we had all been sitting on the front steps of the house, drinking tea and enjoying the lovely weather. James was kicking a soccer ball around on the driveway, and George was tossing plastic ball into the air and then hitting it with a baseball bat, in a surprisingly coordinated way. When it was time to go in and start thinking about dinner, George got upset because he wanted to continue playing. We know that transitions can be rough for him, so we patiently spoke to him and tried to get him to yield the baseball bat.

In the end, he yelled, “FINE!”, threw the baseball bat down on the ground, stormed into the house and slammed the front door. In other words, he acted like a typical almost-nine-year-old bratty kid who wasn’t getting his own way.

Which is great, and normally something that would have me jumping for joy.

The problem was that he flipped the lock on the front door, so none of the rest of us could get in.

Oh dear. My autistic son – my upset autistic son – was unattended in a locked house. That is a frightening prospect: we were more worried about his safety than anything else. We did eventually talk George into unlocking the door, and then, to use common parenting parlance, we read him the riot act. He was given a timeout, which he hates, and then he had to wait for an hour before he was allowed to use his computer.

He cried as if the world was about to end. Tears of absolute desolation flowed from him as he lay on the couch. He looked utterly heartbroken.

Well, this was no good. We had wanted to discipline him, not make him miserable. I lay down on the couch beside him and told him I loved him. I tried to comfort him, but he would not be comforted. I started thinking that this might be one of those times where you just have to let the kid cry it out of his system.  But it turned out that he simply needed something else.

He got off the couch and ran into James’ room, where James was lying quietly on his bed waiting for the storm to pass. George got onto the bed beside James and gently tugged at James’ arm. James responded by looping his arm over George, and the boys lay there hugging each other.

And just like that, George was calm, as if someone had flicked a switch. Which in some way, James clearly had.

I instinctively knew that I needed to back away and let the brothers have some time alone.

As I quietly left the room, I heard James softly say to George, “I would do anything for you, George.”

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)


The Mathematics Of Brotherhood


I am fortunate enough to have two children who travel well, at least by car. We have not yet experimented with air travel, but I have a feeling that once we got past the airport chaos and onto the plane, they would be fine. We are not quite ready for that, so for now we are sticking to the road trips.

Last weekend, we drove to Elkhart, Indiana. It’s a journey of about eight hours, which does not include time spent on the border crossing and any pit stops. We planned as well as we could, given that we only had a day in which to plan. I packed up stuff for an en route picnic, and made sure the boys had their favourite toys in the car with them. I even had my laptop handy in case I had to calm them down by playing DVD’s for them.

The drive down could not have gone better. The guy at the border cheerfully welcomed us into the United States, despite my six-year-old informing him that “Daddy always be’s crazy.” Shortly after crossing the border, we stopped for our picnic. Everyone had fun, and there were no complaints as we piled the kids back into the car for the remainder of the drive.

The drive home was a different story altogether. I wouldn’t say it was disastrous, exactly, but it was a little fraught with stress. It started with lost Lego. I wrote recently about George’s Lego, and how it can never, ever be lost.

Right before leaving the Elkhart city limits, we stopped for a leisurely dinner. We ate our food, paid and left. When we had been driving for about an hour, George suddenly started asking for his Lego. This surprised us, since we had assumed he had it with him. We pulled over and couldn’t find the Lego anywhere in the car. A phonecall to the restaurant confirmed that George had left it on the table.

There was no way we were going to force our child with autism to do without the object that is a big source of comfort to him – I mean, he sleeps with his Lego – so we drove back to Elkhart and got it. Disaster was averted and peace reigned once again.

But only for a little while.

By the time we embarked on our return journey, the kids were tired, cranky and overstimulated from a packed weekend. It is understandable that they didn’t feel like spending eight hours stuck in the car. I didn’t feel like spending eight hours stuck in the car.

With about five hours of the drive left to go, George started saying, “I want to go home. I want to be home in ten minutes.”

Well, in the absence of rocket launchers on the car, that wasn’t going to happen. We tried to talk George through his increasing anxiety. Even James, in his sweet way, was trying to comfort his brother.

“Don’t worry, George. We’ll be home tonight.”

Instead of calming down, George was getting more and more anxious, so we did what we always do when he needs to be distracted: we started throwing out math questions at him.

George loves numbers. He’s been able to count to 100 in a variety of increments since he was three, and he was doing multiplication in his head long before anyone taught it to him at school. When he’s asked a math question, he cannot resist answering it. It’s a marvellous way to reduce his stress.

James started playing along and pretty much took over. He was asking George one math question after another. What’s 8 plus 8? What’s 32 minus 7? What’s 5 times 5?

The math questions eventually morphed into nonsense questions. What’s cow plus water? What’s house plus airplane? What’s paper plus shoes?

Every time James asked one of these questions, he provided an equally nonsense answer. By the time this had been going on for a while, the kids were in fits of giggles. Come to think of it, me and my husband were too. It was hilarious.

Then James asked the following question: What’s James plus George?

We all looked at James, waiting for the answer. When it came, it brought tears to my eyes.

James plus George equals love.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)


Affection, Empathy And Autism

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

Several years ago, my mom volunteered at a “Riding For The Disabled” program. She would help a child with cerebral palsy or Downs Syndrome onto a horse, and then lead the horse around a field. Many of the kids she worked with would be on the edge of meltdown at the beginning of the designated hour, but after five minutes on horseback they would be completely calm.  My mom, always an animal-lover, adored the horses, and she loved working with the children.

There was a little boy with autism in the group, and although my mom didn’t love him any less than the other kids, she did find him a lot more challenging to work with. He was a highly intelligent child with severe communication deficits and some intense behavioural issues. Once settled on his horse, he would jab at the horse’s neck and tug at its mane, and any attempts by my mom to stop him would lead to meltdown. She swore that he deliberately kicked her as he was getting down from the horse after his turn. More than once she returned home with nasty bruises on her arms or legs.

Although this was all in the day before autism became a more direct part of our lives, my mom was sufficiently aware to know that the child’s behaviour was a result of his autism, and not a personal vendetta against either her or the horse. She believed, though, that he was not remotely capable of either affection or empathy. And because people form generalizations based on what they know, for a long time we subscribed to the commonly held belief that people with autism are not able to have meaningful connections with other human beings.

In fact, when we were waiting for my own son’s diagnosis, in our ignorance we pretty much ruled out autism in our own minds.

“He’s so affectionate,” we would say. “It couldn’t possibly be autism.”

Now, of course, we know better, and we are able to gently correct the people we come across who follow the same stereotype.

My son George may not ever be a great talker, but there is nothing wrong with his ability to feel and express love. All I have to do to know this is come home after work. My husband and sons watch for me from the front window, and as soon as they see me walking down our quiet street, my husband opens the door. The kids dash out and race each other to me. And then, with looks of pure joy on their faces, they launch themselves at me so hard that the force of their love knocks me off-balance.

Sometimes, when I am working on my laptop at home, George will  come up to me and somehow arrange his lanky eight-year-old self on my lap. And he will wrap his little arms around my neck and hug me, oh so fiercely. Then there are the times I wake up in the night to find him snuggled up to me, sleeping peacefully with one of his hands curled around a strand of my hair.

Admittedly, there was a time when I worried about what seemed to be a lack of empathy towards his little brother, James. About a year ago, I told a member of George’s therapy team that whenever James was crying, George would laugh hysterically at him. I expressed concern at the lack of empathy and the apparent joy that he got out of his brother’s pain. The therapist smiled at me kindly and said, “He’s a seven-year-old boy. That’s what seven-year-old boys do.”

While most other people have to be educated on the behaviour of special needs kids, my husband and I frequently have to be told how typical kids behave. It’s a little bizarre, but there it is.

The truth is that although George can be a typical pain-in-the-ass brother, just like any other brother, it is clear that he adores James. He is never comfortable with James’ absence, and his demeanour takes on an air of tenderness when James is sick. There are times when one of the boys will go in search of the other one during the night, and I will find them in the morning, curled up together, with George’s arm thrown protectively over James’ shoulders.

When I think about George’s future, there are many things I worry about.

His relationship with his brother is not one of them.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)