Probability of Autism
The probability of a child being autistic is higher when the child before that is autistic.
I am the second child, also the youngest. I only have an elder sister, she is neurotypical. She was a horrendously mischievous child; her infamous reputation preceded her that our relative pre-alerted our grandparents even before we arrived at their place, so that everyone helped to move up breakables as high up as possible to ‘separate’ my demolition sister from the items. Aside from her mischiefs, she is pretty much normal.
With a normal first child, naturally, no red flag was raised when I came along. I was an extremely difficult baby who progressed to become quite an eccentric child.
Entering into Toddlerhood
Gradually, the diversity in our behavioural patterns started to present as we entered into toddlerhood. My sister has very good people skills and a pleasantly happy personality. She played with everyone well. I, on the contrary, kept things to myself, and I preferred playing on my own. My mother recalled, ‘She never played with other children.’.
I would prefer to play on my own. I didn’t play with my only sister too.
The Spoilt Child – The Intense Need to be in Control
I have had a craving to be accepted too, but when I played with my sister or the neighbour’s children, I almost always create an unpleasant scene or situation. Group play was difficult, because I had very little control over how things progressed, and I was not comfortable with that.
I didn’t share well, probably still don’t. Other children were ‘chaotic’, including my sister. I had ‘systems’ in doing everything; most children (or adults) don’t.
‘Playing by ear’ is an acquired skill – which I struggled to accept – only when I am much older as an adult. When things didn’t go according to plan, I went into (what we now know as) meltdowns.
During my winter trip in Denmark, the host and I planned to visit a shopping mall, because I wanted to go to the shop that sold Pandora jewellery. We found the shop and were told that except for the specialist shops, no one else was allowed to sell Pandora jewellery anymore. With that, I completely lost navigation. We walked around the mall aimlessly for less than 10 minutes, and we left. It would be different if my first objective was met; but when it was not, I was stuck at the phase one and couldn’t get out of it. We went to downtown instead and found the shop. The day would be completely ruined if we didn’t find that shop. I am still inflexible that way, and I felt almost embarrassed because I had always thought that I had learnt the art of flexibility.
I am always envious of other siblings. I envy the close bond they shared. Our neighbour who lived next door had four daughters, they addressed one another by ‘sister’ according to their ranking, i.e. big sister, second sister etc. My sister and I address each other by name. I tried to change it, but it felt unnatural.
The drastic personality difference aside, my sister and I share very different interests. We have practically nothing in common. She is an extrovert; I am highly introverted (no surprise there). She has very short interest span; I have focused interests that are hardly outgrown. Her reflexes are almost instantaneous; I take forever to answer a yes or no question.
Understanding – Looking at Both Sides
I understand the personal risks I am undertaking when I choose public disclosure of my diagnosis for Asperger’s. The ‘personal risks’ are not always strictly personal. These risks I choose to take, implicate the immediate family too.
It is now easier to say that I was not given the understanding I deserved, on compassionate reasoning. However, just because I have a (or more) disorder, doesn’t make me the only person who shoulder the stress of diversity.
I had wanted to have a close relationship with my only sister, but it was never easy, and we were never close. It doesn’t mean we don’t share affectionate sisterly love, but it’s like two neurones connected by a synapse, except that between us, it’s not just the minute gap.
We hardly hang out together. When we did, it was short-lived. We are too different and that creates friction and almost always end up with conflicts.
The situation is not caused by one of us, but both. Similarly, the desire to be close with the only sister is never one-sided too. While my sister was playing with the other kids, I was stacking Lego bricks by myself. I was happier that way. Sometimes, they ‘forced’ me to join them; I would never invite any of them to play with me, if you had thought it was two-way, it never was. See how I phrased it? They were probably trying to include me, but I felt compelled, because when I said no, their persuasion seemed pushy; generally, people regardless of age, don’t take ‘no’ very well.
Perhaps, my sister wished I could join her too. It was as difficult for me to join the noisy games as it was challenging for my sister to stay interested in the boring games that I was seemingly very engaged in. There was a playground in my head, bursting fantasy-like magic while I stacked Lego bricks. Unfortunately, I could never share that playground with anyone.
Entering into Adolescence
My sister was trendy and very popular, especially that she was a pretty teenager. She did the most ‘fashionable’ stuffs such as playing truant and going to disco dances at very young age.
There was a very brief moment when I wondered why she never brought me to any – but remember that I was a very difficult sister, not just to her, but even to her friends. When her friends came over, I could lose temper and chased everyone out of our house. Similar incidents happened countless of times throughout the years that we lived together. We shared room, so it was extremely challenging when I came home to a bunch of people unexpectedly, and they were eating my ice-cream (yeah, for some reasons, that was unforgettable and possibly unforgivable!) and snacks!
I would burst into unmanageable anger when a few of these things happened – my stuffs were moved; my food was missing; too much noises. Trust me, I had completely no regard for my sister, when I asked her friends to leave.
I believe that my sister and I put in equally same amount of effort to try to bond, but deep down, we know we belong in different planets. Don’t get me wrong, we are capable in engaging in meaningful conversations, but there is always an invisible obstacle between us.
The Impossible Possibility – What if…
There were times when I indulged myself to the ‘what ifs’. What if, my sister had Asperger’s like me too? Would we be more alike? Would we share similar interests? Would we be able to understand each other better?
Now, have we also considered that perhaps my sister entertained that thought too? What if I were normal like her? Would we have played dress-up together? Would we have talked about boys to each other? Would we have gone shopping (we did, but not exactly most fun for either of us – she is very fickle minded, I am very decisive, and I hate window shopping, or shopping at all) and had more lunches together? Would we be the dynamic duo, whereby it was us against the world?
The Same Loneliness
I was always alone. I was always home. I rarely went out. My sister always had company. She was hardly home. She was always out. My mother had different sets of worries for the two daughters. She couldn’t use the same advice twice.
To my sister: ‘Stay home more’. To me: ‘Try to go out more often”.
Uneducated as my mother is, I say she did a fantastic job in raising us. She didn’t punish my sister for not playing with me; although I got punished a lot for her ‘crimes’, but my mother was trying to demonstrate ‘fairness’ and she must be hooked on the Musketeer’s motto of ‘One for all, all for one’. We were equally responsible when rules were not observed – especially on safety reasons to go home straight after school. Oh, I would be most glad to head home straight; remember, my sister and I are suspended on the two extreme ends of the pole. I followed every rule; she broke every single one of them! You may think that I could just head home on my own, but my mother designed a very nasty rule, I would go down with my sister if any of us went home without the other.
It may seem like my sister, the popular girl who was adored by the group, had a good time; while I, who resent people, was the lonely child.
Perhaps, we were both lonely in this sisterhood. She was surrounded by people, none was her sister.
The Freedom of Choice
We didn’t know then, of the brain and developmental diversity. Autism was as much a myth as it was a taboo (probably still is). I remember when we came back from the psychiatrist’s office after my diagnosis, my mother said, ‘if I were more educated like other mothers, maybe I would have noticed that your eccentricities were autistic traits and maybe you would have gotten the help that you needed. Maybe you didn’t have to suffer so much.’. The truth is, my mother had fared exceedingly even without that knowledge, I was rarely punished for being difficult (primarily just exhibiting my autistic traits) – keyword: rarely; for the times that I was punished because I didn’t understand beyond the literal meaning, those were brutally harsh.
My mother encouraged and endorsed freedom of choice. We were given the freedom to choose a religion – although she tried to influence us of her preferred choice, but she never insisted; she encouraged sister-bonding, but she exercised fairness in disciplinary actions at her discretion. Maybe because she came from a huge family, she understood that sisterly love cannot be forced.
At times, I am thankful that I am diagnosed later in the adulthood. If I had been diagnosed when I was a child, it is possible that my sister could be deprived of her own normal childhood experiences because she would have to consider her autistic sister first. I wonder if that was the case, would it impact a normal child to wishing that she had a disorder too.
Fairness, is the key to harmonious sibling relationship. Even if there were a child with special needs in the family, we ought to consider that the normal child has her own childhood developmental needs too. If not careful, we may end up with two children who need special attention. The causation for one is by nature; and the other by nurture.