When Derek was first diagnosed, I wondered how my oldest son Tyler was going to be affected. It was a big concern of mine. Derek was suddenly getting lots of attention and Tyler, not even 3, didn't know what in the world was going on. Autism is hard for an adult to understand, let alone a toddler. I wanted to find a way to explain what was going on in simple terms. So I bought him a children's book. The book was called "Ian's Walk: A Story About Autism." I thought it was a great book, even though the kid in the book was older than Derek. Ian, like Derek, was non-verbal and had lots of sensory issues. The message in the story was perfect--that Ian was ok exactly the way he was. I read the book to Tyler often, and talked to him about Derek as much as possible. I didn't want "AUTISM" to be a family secret. I wanted Tyler to be able to ask questions and discuss it openly.
Derek was diagnosed almost 3 years ago. Over the years, Tyler has dealt with feelings of jealousy, rage, and surprisingly enough, protectiveness. He's defended Derek's actions to his friends, to family members, and even to complete strangers. He's asked more and more grown-up questions and shown that he has quite a mature understanding of what autism is for his age. He still says things like, "I think Derek will be able to talk by the time he's 6. Then he won't be autistic anymore. Right, mom?" Then I have to explain to my son that autism is not something that we outgrow. That Derek might learn to talk, but that he will always be autistic and always need our help. That we will have to love him extra and make sure the world understands that he is special. Then Tyler will surprise me with his wisdom and respond by saying, "Everyone is different. I'll love him anyway."
Today I found out from Tyler's kindergarten teacher that the school counselor wanted her to talk to the class about autism, because one of the kids was asking what it is. I guess Tyler talks about his brother being autistic at school. It's no big deal to him, because he's never known anything different. But the other kids at school are confused. So I loaned my copy of "Ian's Walk" to the teacher today and tomorrow Tyler's class is going to learn about autism and Tyler's little brother. I asked Tyler if it was ok with him, if he was embarassed. He said, "No, why would I be?" For some reason tears are spilling down my cheeks. Tyler is going to be Derek's best friend and biggest ally. Autism Awareness Day is every day in my house.