If you have read several of these posts, you know that I have four kids. Sometimes, we add an exchange student to the mix. Often, we are with "cousin friends" as well. There is no shortage of fights and squabbles. The strong personalities represented are immense. There are multiple 2E kids in the mix. There are at least two 2E kids in my own house. Sometimes, they fight so much I have to separate everyone. Others, I am able to help them through their conflict by way of active listening and compromise sessions that I mediate. We have had weeks on end where no one could play nicely together for more than about 15 minutes without the need for mediation. Some days, I have to pull just one kid from the mix because of their inability to hang for whatever reason.
Conversely, sometime, like right this minute, they play so nicely together that I don't need to interfere. I usually quietly move on to something else that needs doing. Today, I am monitoring. The six who are together right now, in a small-ish room, playing with somewhat fragile toys, have the propensity to escalate and get out of hand quickly. One of them is also struggling with telling lies, so he has the honor of being my constant buddy, so we can work through that life.
We deal with the typical sibling conflicts that every family navigates. However, Will and Mack are intensely opposite. We refer to them as Order and Entropy sometimes. When Mack was small, he went through a biting phase. This is not something my others experienced. Mack bit when he was frustrated or angry. I monitored play or took him with me so he couldn't hurt his siblings. When I could monitor them, I could see the situation getting tense and separate Mack from the rest when he was looking too frazzled. I was then able to teach him to growl and clench his fists when angry or frustrated. When he growled, the other kids would move away, and I would move him to a calm down spot and help him find the words to use to explain his feelings and needs to his siblings. Eventually, he learned to remove himself. This process started when he was just two. It took a lot of hands on hours of assisting him for him to eventually learn to remove himself when he was too overwhelmed. By the time he was about five, I could (mostly) let them play alone without fear that Mack would harm anyone.
Compromise and other issues
Will also had (has) a low threshold. He is getting better, but we deal with rigidity of thinking and resistance to compromise and change. Sometimes Will takes an hour to figure out what he wants to play, and by then, the others have moved on to something else and won't shift back. Other times, Will knows exactly what he wants to play and tries to force his ideas on the rest. They often resist, and Will takes it personally.
I took away made up games and mash up games last week because there was too much arguing about rules and characters. They all get too involved in making up rules and restricting who can be what character and end up arguing more than playing. My attempts to mediate were falling on deaf ears as everyone was too frustrated to hear. Now they are forced to be more creative with what they play together. Or less so as they are required to play things that are already governed by someone else's rules.
Beyond their playing together, which is when we have the biggest struggles, they also fight about who sits where, what music, how loud things are, who get what room, who eats which fruit/veggie, etc. Mack struggles with congestion from allergies which annoys Rory and Will. Will forgets that Mack cannot help his breathing noises, and snaps at him. I remind Will that he may move away from Mack. Will is sensitive to noise and also snaps at Kae or Mack for their noise levels. Again, I remind Will he may go elsewhere. I frequently have to mediate what snacks are eaten by whom when we are low on certain options.
Mack is only two years younger than Will, and kind of in his own world. He didn't ever mimic Will. He securely was always his own person and did plenty to get our attention. By the time Kae came along and was watching her adoring older siblings, there were over six years between she and Will. She looked up to him and emulated him from early on. This lead Leigh and I to wonder whether she was copying him when she did certain things. She struggles to part with outgrown clothes and is very particular about which utensils and plates she uses. By six, Will was less particular about his flatware and dishes, but he still struggles to part with outgrown clothes and toys at 11. We wonder if she's picked this up from him.
Adoring brother gazing at mischevious sister <3
On the flip side, Leigh and I can parent her differently. her meltdowns are shorter and less intense and easily swayed. Now that she is five, we more think she is just who she is. The times she has melted down in response to one of Will's meltdowns, a quick cuddle and kiss assuage her fury while he must melt, calm, process, think, hug, then talk. She isn't copying him. She is just feeling him. A quick hug and moving on are adequate.
NT vs Autistic
NT refers to neurotypical, and while none of mine are technically, there are several who are allistic. Will and Leigh are my autistic people. Rory, Kae, and Mack are differently neurodivergent. But, helping siblings of autistic kids learn how to approach their brothers or sisters is delicate and as varied as the siblings themselves. We have helped each sibling pair navigate each other individually. We not only help the allistic sibling but also Will. We have helped Rory, Mack, and Kae listen to Will in a different way, and to speak to him differently. They still get exasperated, though. As do I. We are also helping Will learn how his siblings might think and react too. We work on everyone listening and talking to each other without judgement. We use reflexive listening and teach them to listen to listen not to respond. Each person gets a turn to speak. And each listener gets to restate what the speaker has said so we can all ensure understanding.
We have helped each set of siblings learn what the others enjoy playing and how. There are some they can all four play together. There are some for just the boys, much to Kae's chagrin (she wants to play all the things with all the people all the times). There are some things for Kae and Will or Kae and Mack. They have learned to listen to each other. This took years of helping them learn. And often, lately, I have begun reteaching it and teaching it to my "nieces" and "nephews". I will not lie. This form of communicating is exhausting sometimes. But I promise, it makes a difference. Leigh and I learned reflexive listening in pre-marital counseling and we are paying it forward by teaching our children.
What's The point?!
Why write all this? (I know it's a lot). The sibling relationship is one that almost every parent struggles with. We want our kids to be each other's advocated and best friends. That is somewhat unrealistic, but we can help them not hate each other. We can help them have a relationship for life. We can help them understand each other. It is equally important to help autistic siblings to listen to allistic ones as it is for allistic siblings to listen to autistic siblings.
Often we want to teach our autistic family members how to navigate a world built outside them. I feel it important to teach allistic people how to relate to autistic ones. I am always learning how Will and Leigh need me to talk to them so they can understand my intent. I also work at listening to them actively so I can really feel what they need.
Reach out for more support. I will even teach you how to facilitate an active listening session with your littles!