Autism and Brotherly Love

Autism brothers war eagleIt’s been a while, I know.

There are so many ideas, stories and “aha” moments that have been building up that my brain is overflowing. You would think I would run to my computer and just let my fingers fly.

Well, the only excuse I have is that this summer has been quite a summer and one that took me emotionally by surprise. I mean, ALL the emotions! To say that I was not ready is to put it mildly.

My middle son, Brendan, moved away to college the first week of August and my whole (very short) summer was absorbed with getting things ready for his new adventure. I actually did write about this emotional mess I became as I approached the closing of a big chapter in my life as a mom.

“They are out there. I know you have seen them. Blog posts, Facebook posts, Instagram photos, Tweets and articles all about those upcoming college kids. My Facebook newsfeed is a stream of post after post after post of moms and dads dealing with the whirlwind of emotions as they prepare to send their kids off to college.

I told myself I wouldn’t add to that long list of posts.

I lied…”    You can read the full post on Grown and Flowns website which, by the way, if you are getting ready to send one of your babies off to college, I highly recommend this blog. I have found a lot of helpful information on it. It also helps to know that you are not the only mom going through the one thousand emotions that hit you every day.

So, yeah, Brendan was our focus this summer, including Taylor’s.

Taylor is a man of few words but he had many questions for Brendan these past few months and he wanted to spend more time than usual with his brother. This was a newer thing for Taylor. Taylor generally likes to keep to himself but had just in the recent years developed a much closer relationship with Brendan. I think the best way to describe their relationship is more like Brendan is Taylor’s big brother instead of the other way around. If Brendan was going somewhere, Taylor wanted to go with him and Brendan wanted him to. If we were going somewhere, the first question Taylor would ask was “Is Brendan going?” If Brendan wasn’t going, then he didn’t want to go. I would say this began at the beginning of Brendan’s Senior year. I thought it was the sweetest thing that Taylor wanted to get as much time in with Brendan as he could. As a mom, to see your children very obviously love each other, well it’s the most joyous feeling, but to see your autistic child really start to connect with his brothers in a way you’ve never seen before…well it’s pretty indescribable.

Packing Brendan up that day in August was not as emotionally hard for me as was this  summer leading up to it. I think keeping myself busy packing, loading cars, checking off lists and trying not to forget anything important kept me from the thinking about the fact that my child was leaving me. Leaving us.

Brendan was moving into an apartment a couple of blocks off campus so there were more things to take and buy and prepare for his new place than if  he was moving into a dorm. We had a big weekend ahead of us, i.e. a big distraction for mom!

That Friday, we all hit the road to Auburn. Mike and the boys stayed busy loading and unloading furniture and boxes,  hanging shelves and shower curtains and trying to get the TV to work. I focused on painting and cleaning the apartment spotless while telling myself that surely Brendan will keep it spotless, too. Hey! Mom’s can dream!

What I’m saying is that we all stayed incredibly busy. There was so much to do and not much time for any of us to really digest that our family dynamic was about to change in just a few short hours.

The plan was to stay the weekend in Auburn with Brendan and help him get everything perfect. Okay, I wanted everything perfect but whatever. My husband and I also weren’t ready to leave him. Not just yet. It didn’t help that he was moving down weeks early for band camp. Students wouldn’t arrive for another two to three weeks. We had plenty of things to do to help him get settled so we weren’t too obvious about not wanting to leave…I don’t think.

That first night at dinner Brendan was on top of the world. He was so excited and ready to start this new chapter of his life. Auburn’s Marching Band Camp would start in two days and he couldn’t wait! We were a little sad but knowing he was about to do something he had been dreaming of, well, his excitement and happiness were absolutely contagious…to everyone but Taylor.

I looked over and  noticed that Taylor was not eating his dinner. Mike asked him,
“Aren’t you hungry, bud?”

Taylor just continued to stare at his food but answered, “I’m just nervous about the future.”

“About Brendan moving to Auburn?”

Taylor (glassy eyed) *nods head vigorously*

I told him, “Taylor, don’t stress. We are going to be coming down for the football games. You will get to see Brendan at every home game, ok?”

Then Brendan told him, “Taylor I’ll see you September 8th. There are lots of home games this year.”

Taylor said he felt better and seemed to relax but what we didn’t know yet was that he was still very worried.

The next night Taylor asked us if there “are any football games in January?”

He knows there’s not.

Then he asked us if Brendan would come home for the holidays.

The next morning he informed all of us that he “wants to live in Auburn now”.

autism brothers

Brendan talking with Taylor, assuring him they will see each other often.

I think that is when it finally dawned on my husband and I that Taylor may have thought that Brendan was never coming home again. No wonder he was so worried!

It was probably the most heartbreaking part of Brendan’s move-in weekend. Mike and I were so focused on making sure Brendan had everything that he needed that we missed the growing concern in Taylor.

People often misunderstand Autism. So many believe that a part of Autism is not having the regular emotions as you and I. Well, I am here to tell you that they have the same feelings that we do and they feel them STRONGLY. Feelings of love, compassion, worry, sadness, pride, joy, fear, concern, exuberance, sympathy and happiness.  All of them! They may not be able to express these emotions the same way or show them the same way that we do but they feel!

autism brother love
Taylor is probably one of the most sensitive kids I know. He was very sad and anxious about leaving his brother that weekend. Before leaving for home, Brendan took Taylor for a walk around campus to show him around and see the buildings he would be taking classes in. This was a huge help in easing Taylor’s anxiety by giving him a visual that he could see in his head when he thought of what Brendan may be doing during his day. Brendan also continued to reassured him that they would see each other often in the coming months.

Within an hour after getting back home, Taylor Facetimed Brendan.

“Hey Brendan! I’m just checking on you.” Then they continued to Facetime for another thirty minutes. I believe it is the longest, continual conversations I have ever heard from Taylor…ever!

I think that Facetime eased his mind the most. He realized he could still see his brother whenever he wanted. He knew Brendan was okay and that he would see him again very soon. He was only a few hours away and we could go visit “anytime”. Brendan gave him specific dates so Taylor could put these dates on the wall calendar in the kitchen. That little thing continues to give Taylor peace of mind and a daily visual for when he will see his brother next. It’s something solid he can look forward to by checking off the days on the calendar.

This was a rough patch for Taylor but he is handling it much better now. He switched rooms with Brendan but kept some of Brendan’s things on the wall. He then Facetimed him to show off his “new” room.

Things are back to routine and we are getting to used to this “new normal”. Most importantly, Taylor is no longer sad and worried about his brother. I’ll be honest with you though, I am not looking forward to when it is time for Jordan to move off to college. We have a few more years yet before that happens but it’s not as far off as it seems. I know this Momma is not ready! Hopefully by then, Taylor will understand completely that his brothers are not going leave him and it won’t be so traumatic to him.

Yeah, Taylor loves his brothers. He loves them very much.

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