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“Empties”

I started watching the Netflix series, “Atypical” last week. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out. It’s really good. It’s about a family with two teens, one of whom is high-functioning autistic. Sounds dark, but it gives a great perspective on the reality of life with a high-functioning ASD kid.  It is actually funny, while at the same time, it can be gut-wrenching, particularly as the mom of a high-functioning, ASD teen. It gives me hope for his future as well as makes me aware how long and difficult his struggles will be.

Episode 5 about killed me the other day.  I had to stop it at one point – the neuro-typical daughter was talking about what life was like as the sister to an autistic person. She explained that when she was younger, she would hear her mom talking about her as her “NT” kid (neuro-typical)….She thought her mom was calling her an “Empty” and it made sense to her, because she felt she had to empty herself out in order to make space in their life for her autistic brother, the brother who took up so much space in their family.  I immediately started crying.

Little Man was diagnosed relatively late, at eight years old, but I still feel his diagnosis and subsequent therapies, etc took over our lives to a certain extent. We didn’t stop living, didn’t stop activities for the other two, but Little Man’s autism consumed me, especially emotionally.  One of my biggest fears has been how his autism affects them, what it does to them, how they feel about it.

Big Man and the Princess have not been at the same school with Little Man for years. It’s been five years for Big Man, and four for P since they shared a campus with him. That may change next year, as one of the options on the table for high school for Little Man is their school…..the public, traditional high school just down the street.  We’ve talked extensively about the possibility of him going there…..the worries of him being able to navigate the campus, deal with the number of students, handle the homework load, much less the possibility of being bullied, his differences so obvious. They’ve said they would help him, that they and their friends would look out for him. But what level of that is appropriate to expect of them? At what point do they feel they have to become “empties” so that he might be safe and successful? What is too much to expect?

We may not have to face this issue to the extent I worry about it. Time and his needs may find him at a different school entirely. They are still, however, his siblings. The day-to-day reality of that still weighs heavy on my mind. At what point do they feel they have to become “empties”? I hope I never intentionally lay that expectation on them.

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