Columnist Matt Davis tackles the tricky topic of deciding to have a second child after son Isaac’s autism diagnosis…
The dilemma of a second child had always weighed heavy on me and my wife. While we expected to exit Isaac’s toddler years chatting about a sibling for him, what we had was a distressed, delayed
child who was disrupting our lives. Did not having a second highlight our pragmatism or shine a harsh light on our inability to cope with parenthood?
And then at diagnosis at the beginning of 2011, the second child issue got a little more complex. The paediatrician’s parting shot was to tell us that if we had another child, he or she would be 5% more likely to have autism. Unlikely, but still (kind of) significantly more likely than the standard one in 100 that Isaac had become. Now there was a whole new imponderable – another child might have autism.
Solely concentrating on Isaac was the sensible thing to do. It sapped all our energy and time. It was best for us, and best for him. Add in the risk of another child with autism and surely a second was even more daunting.
Children with autism are as individual from each other as children without it are. So if a sibling does have autism, he or she will be different from Isaac. Indeed, Isaac comes with his own instruction manual. We know what makes him happy, sad, calm, whatever. That manual won’t be applicable if we were to have another child with autism; it definitely won’t if we have a child without. Deliberately and methodically, we confronted the second child issues, the probabilities and problems, and emerged confident and content.
Tabitha has just turned six months old. What we can’t suppress is the seeking of signs of autism in her. Monitoring eye movements and interactions, diagnosing developments, comparing to our hazy
memories of Isaac. A counterbalance to this anxiety is the social effect Tabitha has had on Isaac, which has ultimately been heartwarming, even inspiring. There appears to be no jealousy because that’s not really in his nature. Nothing demonstrates Isaac’s huge reserves of love and affection more than the adoration he shows – a little obsessively – for Tabitha.
Isaac was perfectly programmed for her arrival. To be tender with touch and to show love. To not be alarmed by crying. Brotherly instructions were inscribed into him. And now he behaves beautifully with her. It’s as if a conscious learning to show love has brought out a dormant but vast natural ability. There’s a definite and distinct way she looks at her older brother. Knowingly, lovingly, protectively. What I’m sure of is it’s the beginning of a most wholesome and genuine and transparent friendship.
Sticking to the rigid routine for Isaac and not swaying from it, always appreciating his autism, has enabled us to cope day to day. Maybe that’s what enabled us to eventually entertain the possibility of a second child in the first place. An awareness of Isaac’s autism, not a fear of a sibling having it.
Matt Davis is a parent patron for Ambitious about Autism, www.ambitiousaboutautism.org.uk, the national charity for children and young people with autism. He blogs about his family’s life at mysonisaac.blogspot.co.uk. Follow Matt on Twitter: @copyiswritten
Enable magazine, Jan/Feb 2014