so now that I’m taking that first baby step toward 200 blogs, I keep hearing a
silly song from my childhood: “100 bottles of beer on the wall, 100 bottles of
beer, if one of those beers should happen to fall, 99 bottles of beer on the
wall…” Remember singing that one on long
bus trips to sleepaway camp or in the family car traveling for too many hours
to what seemed like an endlessly faraway destination? I definitely don’t want The Never-Empty Nest
to become a series
of virtual beer bottles tumbling off the cyberwall each week. But instead of
singing my way to zero, I’m writing my way upward to… who knows? So this week’s
post is an invitation to my readers.
What are your deepest concerns about your kids growing up and departing
the family nest? I’ll tell you mine, if
you tell me yours.
At last week’s autism conference at
Adelphi, I attended an afternoon seminar, “Family Matters: Enhancing Parent and
Sibling Relationships from Adolescence through Adulthood” with the sole
intention of raising my most gnawing question. “Do you have any suggestions for
how I can help my twins, age 24, improve their relationship? My daughter on the
spectrum—usually very sweet—is so envious of her neurotypical brother’s
popularity and success that she’s nasty or avoids him. We’re not going to be here forever and I’d
feel a lot better if they could grow closer.” (Usually I try not to think about
this because it makes my eyes burn).
Maybe because I’m from such a small family—an only child of a mother who
was an only child and missed out on having a sibling, I had a
stronger-than-average yearning for my kids—especially twins—to grow up sharing a
special bond. Yes, I KNOW from friends
and family that plenty of neurotypical brothers and sisters grow up having very
little to do with each other. But I also
see families where siblings are close, and it makes me wonder what—if
anything—I could have done (or could still do) differently.
My question was submitted (along
with others) on an index card to the group of experts on the panel. The panelists included John Elder Robison,
the brilliant Aspergian writer and speaker I described in last week’s
post. Also on the panel and diagnosed
with “atypical development and strong autistic tendencies,” was Stephen Shore,
an assistant professor at Adelphi University who teaches courses in special
education and autism. In addition, there were several neurotypical female
panelists: a speech pathologist with an older adult brother on the autistic spectrum,
a psychologist with a Ph.D. who specializes in diagnostic evaluation, and a
college senior with a twin brother (in the audience) who has inspired her to
pursue a degree in Special Education.
Mr. Robison decided that my
question was “so compelling it needed to be answered first.” Unfortunately, the
panelist who volunteered to answer was the one whose beloved twin brother was
sitting in the row in front of me. Instead of offering suggestions for how to
help my twins improve their relationship, she took the opportunity to describe the special and loving relationship she enjoys with her own brother—whom she invited to
stand and receive applause. I’m happy for her and her twin brother; really I
am, but I couldn’t help feeling deeply frustrated and resentful that she used
up the precious time allotted to my question to wax on about her terrific
relationship, without attempting to offer me any useful advice. I also couldn’t help thinking that although the
sibling panelist was neurotypical, she droned on and drifted off topic, the way people
on the autistic spectrum often do.
Thankfully, (and not surprisingly)
it was Mr. Robison who had both the empathy and the intelligence to realize
that my question had gone unanswered. He
began his response by suggesting that
sibling relationships are frequently over-rated.
Further, trying to improve my twins’ relationship might not be the best idea
because a sibling or family member isn’t always the ideal person to depend on
in a crisis. Robison recommended that I try to help my daughter foster
relationships with close friends who could look out for her after I’m
he could finish, another mother in the audience jumped out of her seat. “I
disagree completely,” she interjected. “Nothing is more important than family!
As a mom, I drilled it into my children from an early age that they would one
day be responsible for my son with autism.
There was never any debate. I don’t have to worry about it now, because
I know they’ll take care of him.”
Good for you.
No useful suggestion there—only the
painful-but-obvious observation that I’d missed the boat on insisting that my son
be responsible for his sister. Was I wrong
to hope that my son might one day look out for his twin sister out of love
rather than obligation? I mouthed a
silent thank you
to Robison when he
looked my way. Although my question had
sparked a short-but-lively debate, I was disappointed and ready to leave. Only Robison
had attempted to answer my question and provide some comfort—even if his answer wasn't the one I'd been seeking.
don’t need an expert panelist with a Ph.D. or another adult with an autistic
sibling to answer my question. Instead
I’m inviting all the parents in cyberspace to offer suggestions. What—if anything—can I do to help my twins
build a better relationship going forward?
I’d also like to invite readers to challenge me with YOUR most
pressing empty nest issues. I promise I’ll
try to address your questions about
family matters in blogs 102, 103 and beyond.
Labels: Adelphi University, Asperger's Syndrome, autism, beers, blogging, cyberspace, empty nest, family issues, John Elder Robison, neurotypical, sibling relationships, special education, twins