I had never heard the word “neurotypical” until Easton was diagnosed with autism. In fact, as I typed it for this very blog post, it became underlined in red, because it’s not even recognized as being part of the English language. It’s a term that has been coined by people in the autism community as a label for people that are NOT on the autism spectrum…people with typically developing brains…the “normal” ones. Parents refer to their child that doesn’t have autism as their neurotypical, or “NT,” child. This blog post is about Keegan…my first-born son, my son without autism, my NT son, my “normal” son…because, it has occurred to me several times in the last year what an incredible kid he is.
First grade is going amazingly well. Kindergarten, on the other hand, was rough. He was so excited, so proud, so happy to be starting school. I bawled like a baby after dropping him off that first day. I’m not exaggerating. I was a blubbering idiot, unable to speak, doing that ugly, sputtering, inhaling thing people do when they cry so hard they can’t get their breath. It was so ridiculous. My first-born was starting Kindergarten with a smile on his face and I could not get a hold of myself. The school year started out okay, but quickly went downhill. I won’t go into detail, but there were several “rough patches,” as we parents like to say because it seems harsh to say they’re being little shits. I’m not blaming him for my increased consumption of beer in the last year, but…well, yes I am a little bit. However, he has done a lot of maturing over the last year and he is like a different little boy now.
Believe me, I’m not about to make excuses for his behavior in Kindergarten. But, there is a little piece of me that wonders if it was all my fault. His little brother was diagnosed with autism shortly after the school year began. His little brother WAS my focus. His little brother was my worry, my concern, my energy. All of my one-on-one time went to…yep, you guessed it. His little brother. And now…I feel like I have a better grasp on things and quite honestly, more sanity. And now…Keegan is excelling in school. He stays on blue every day (that’s the good color). His teacher calls me (gasp! why is she CALLING me?) to tell me she just wanted me to know how wonderful he’s doing and what a great student he is. Is there a connection between my mental well-being and my son’s behavior in school? I guess I’ll never know for sure. But I do know this: the siblings of special needs children do not have it easy.
Keegan started to ask questions about his brother several months ago. It was my first indication that he even noticed there was anything different about his sibling. “Mom, why is Easton not talking yet? I thought 2 year-olds could talk?” I try to explain autism to him. “Well, Keegan, your brother has something called autism. It means he learns things differently than most kids and we just have to keep helping him and be patient.” There are times when Keegan still doesn’t seem to grasp that most kids Easton’s age can speak not just words, but complete, full, and clear sentences. In fact, every time he sees his cousin, who is only 4 months younger than Easton, he says to him, “Can you say ‘mama’?” Keep in mind, my nephew has the vocabulary equivalent of most 12 year-olds. He just gives Keegan this odd look and says, “Yes, I can say mama, but I don’t want to right now.” Keegan is so used to all of us trying so hard to work with Easton reaching those milestones that most one year-olds have reached, that he assumes this is everyone’s “normal.” I love that about him. To him, Easton is just Easton. Keegan has told me, “Mom, he’s really cute. I want to keep him” out of nowhere. He gets genuinely excited every time Easton does something new because he knows every accomplishment is huge. Just a few weeks ago, he said, “Mom, Easton is just the best brother ever.” This is when my epiphany happened that should have happened a long time ago: KEEGAN is the best brother ever. He will always accept Easton exactly for who he is, completely and unconditionally.
Dear Keegan: I didn’t forget about you. It wasn’t my intention to put you and your needs on the back burner last year, but I’m afraid that’s what happened. You are one amazing kid and I’m proud to be your mom.
I read a quote today given by a speaker at an Autism Community Symposium: “A person who has an autism diagnosis is like a train in a car world. Cars can drive around, turn corners, change directions. Trains are stuck on the tracks.” I truly believe Keegan will do a fantastic job helping his brother get along in a car world.