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I’ve felt for several years that my oldest son, Benjamin, had to grow up too fast. And he’s only 7 1/2 years old (at the time of this post). It started right after he was born. I’d always heard about post-partum depression, and was warned by my doctors, but had no conceivable notions that it would happen to me, or if it did, how I and my family would be affected by it. PPD hit within about a month, though it took a much longer for me to really figure out what was going on. Because of this depression and my inability to tend to my son immediately, he mastered the art of self-soothing at a very early age.

As he grew older, he grew to be very independent. He figured out by watching me how to put a video tape in the VCR and turn it on by age 1. He was also able to correctly operate the DVD player and insert a DVD properly. We never had problems with him putting toys or foregin objects in the VCR or DVD players. He, like most little boys I’m sure, figured out very quickly how to get his cereal (he only ate it dry at the time), snacks and even drinks. He didn’t do it perfectly, but it was fun to watch him try and teach him how.

When he was 3 1/2, he sat on the kitchen floor with a book in his hand and started whining, “I can’t read the words!” He REALLY wanted to read. He’d always ask me what words were and tried sounding them out. I bought the book “Teach a Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons” and began working with him on it. By the time we hit lesson 33, he had it all figured out. He took off from there and taught himself as he went along, re-reading all his books, reading new books, and consulting me as his personal, live dictionary.

Ben’s brother, Samuel, came along when Ben was 19 months old. Ben was a great older brother. He was a fantastic helper to me when I was recovering from the C-section, and oh boy, did he love his baby brother! Sam was a screamer from the beginning, but after a few years, it began to take its toll on big brother. I think in some sense Ben knew his brother was different. This was clear about a year ago when he asked me why Samuel does the things he does, especially as it pertained to the screaming.

Boys will be boys; brothers will be BROTHERS!
Benjamin is the happy smiling one “hugging” his younger, terrified brother, Samuel

In difficult moments, we’ve had to allow Sam certain things we don’t allow for Ben because he knows better, and he’s older, so he’s more responsible in certain areas that Samuel is not. This, of course, equals perceived unfairness to Ben. To quell his frustration, we’d always told Ben his brother’s brain works differently than his. He thinks differently, and we do what we do to best help him. We do special things with Ben alone so he doesn’t feel Sam gets all the special attention. We make sure to tell him how much we love him, and how proud we are of him, and that we love all our kids the same, just in different ways.

Because Ben is the older brother, and he is as independent as he is, and he is the first-born child (AKA Bossy-Syndrome), I am convicted often about how much I rely on Ben to help care for his younger brother. Now, on one hand, I want Ben to take responsibility and learn how to care for his brothers well (as it also happens to be a huge help to me!), but on the other hand, I just want him to have fun being a kid. This is proving a bit difficult right now because over the last several months, Samuel has permanently attached himself to his brother’s hip. He has to sit by Ben at the dinner table, in church, beside him anywhere we walk, and practically on top of him when they play together. They sleep in the same bed on the weekends, since they have to be separated during the school week.

It’s gotten to a point where I think Ben is now an object of Sam’s perseverating. Sam hangs on him and makes funny baby sounds with his mouth and wants to touch him constantly by tickling, putting his arm around him, sitting RIGHT next to him, putting his legs on him as they go to sleep…constantly. Typically, kids with autism shy away from social interaction, especially physical interaction. But Samuel has always bucked against “the norm”. I don’t know if he just needs the sensory input or what, but the boy is driving his big brother CRAZY!!!

We want, and are trying, to teach Samuel what is appropriate physical interaction beyond just playing as boys wrestling on the floor and climbing on each other. And as much as I want to teach Ben how to love his brother, prefer his brother, and let Sam be Sam, I also want to protect Ben and just let him be himself without having to worry about how every little thing he does, or choice he makes, will affect his younger brother for the worse. Heaven forbid Ben wants to sit at a chair that is NOT next to Sam, or play a game Sam doesn’t want to play, play with a Sam-unapproved toy, or even drink faster than Sam thinks he should (actual causes for meltdowns).

It is very difficult as a parent to achieve that very delicate balance of teaching responsibility and compassion at the same time allowing him to just be a 7 year old kid. I don’t believe it’s something we’ve yet fully achieved, but it’s definitely something on which we are working hard. I’ve never walked this road before, and I don’t know what to expect next, but we are praying hard for our precious sons, for wisdom in raising them in the admonition of the Lord, for patience in the moments of trial and for healing after epic emotional battles.

Even though I know we’re not doing it perfectly, I think we’re doing something right. It’s made evident in those God-given moments of grace watching Ben take Sam’s hand and telling him if he gets scared, he can hold Ben’s hand. Moments of hearing hysterical laughing from them as they’re playing together. Glimpses of a love only brothers share when Sam puts his arm around Ben sitting next to him at church, or on the couch watching TV and Ben smiles at his brother. It’s those moments when the bickerng is gone, the frustration of who gets to choose which episode of Phineas and Ferb to watch is quelled, and after an argument when they have to make up, apologize and ask forgiveness, then willingly hug and kiss each other, that there is in fact grace in the moment of need and love despite differences. There is hope.
Edits: Benjamin is now 8 years old; Samuel turns 7 in one month. The first picture was taken a few years ago when Ben was around 5 or 6, and Sam was 4 or 5. Also, I don’t want to leave out one very important brother, though he was not part of this post. Joshua is the baby brother, and he is 4, turning 5 in just two more months. He adores both his big brothers!

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