In law, Joseph is an only child but in reality he has the friendship and love of two step-siblings. Even that is deemed as not correct either because me and my partner are not married and they have no entitlement to call themselves that. However, not being fussy on labels and being reasonably fluid, we’re happy to let themselves call each other what they please (within reason).
After Joseph’s diagnosis of autism, I had already split from his Dad and I worried that without a sibling he would miss out on a boat load of opportunities that having a brother or sister would bring. I also knew that the arrival of a new child could also pose some problems and maybe we were just better off as a twosome.
So when my partner’s children were introduced into Joseph’s life, at the age of four I was watching for signs of discomfort and anxiety. After all, people with autism don’t like change do they?
Due to his lack of understanding of the world around him, it wasn’t appropriate to have a discussion around “this is mummy’s new partner’s children”. They were new people in our lives and that was pretty much accepted. What I didn’t agree with at the time was prior to his children meeting Joseph, he had already told them that Joseph had autism. They already knew the word as there was a child in their school with autism but at the age they were, I didn’t think they actually knew what it meant. I’m a firm believer in seeing the person first and not the label. I’m not gonna lie, we had a few choice words about it when I found out and we agreed I was right. Obviously.
Fortunately, they didn’t allow the label to get in the way of their countless attempts over time of trying to engage Joseph and involve him in anything going on. As they’ve become older we’ve spent time talking about what autism means for Joseph and what it actually might mean for other people but we’ve talked about it in an age appropriate way. They’ve asked plenty of questions and even wanted to create presentations at school explaining autism to their peers.
And their relationship with Joseph is not one sided, Joseph adores them. The big test came when we all moved into together a couple of years ago. The only issue there actually has been is getting Joseph to understand he has his own room, as he constantly wants to share with his step-brother. It’s not a bad problem to have but I encourage him to sleep in his own room due to his early morning wake up calls. Funnily enough when they have slept in the same room, it’s often his step-brother who has been awake first!
It’s difficult for him to understand why they’re not here all of the time, although he has his own time away from me when he’s with his Dad. He expects them to be at our house whenever he is and constantly asks “Where have they gone? When are they coming back?” For him, this is where they belong.
I can name at least half a dozen moments where my heart has swelled with pride at their relationship and how it’s developed. Moments where they have supported each other, physically and mentally and I couldn’t wish for much more. They are fiercely protective of him and I know they have Joseph’s back.
They may not be connected by blood but what they have is worth so much more than that.