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From Dad

The second child dilemma

“Daddy, can you help me get dressed,” asks Abby, 4, with her cute bob haircut and her big brown eyes.

“Abby, you know how to do it. You can do it yourself,” I say as I pull the shirt over John’s head, and guide his arms down the sleeves.

“But you’re helping John, and he can do it himself.”

“Well … he can, but he won’t,” I respond, beginning to lose my patience as the minutes slip by.

This is the second child dilemma. With one typical child and one autistic kid, the concept of fairness gets thrown out the window pretty early on.

She has to be a member of the Clean Plate Club to get dessert, but he might get a treat even though he barely touched his food. She is told to hush if she interrupts when an adult is talking. He hums, squawks and shouts and we just move into another room.

With the movies we watch, the books we read before bed, even the toys that can’t be shared, John gets his way. It is not right or fair or kind, but usually an autistic tantrum trumps equality. It is a harsh life lesson that our little girl is exposed to nearly every day.

It hit me on the first day of school. We went to extraordinary effort to prepare John for the transition to kindergarten: special tours of the school, social stories, reciting the day’s schedule over and over, keeping a countdown on the calendar. And when the first day arrived, we got the children dressed, I dropped Abby at a friend’s, who took her off to her Pre-K, and then I spent the better part of the morning with John at his new school until I was sure he would be OK.

It didn’t resonate with me until later that it was Abby’s first day too. Although her teacher was the same as the previous year, there would be new children and new anxieties. But when I dropped her off, my mind was consumed with the challenge facing John. I gave her a hug, told her to have fun, and watched her disappear into our friend’s minivan.

She was fine, of course. She came home tired and happy, with new friends and new stories to tell. But I still felt guilty for not doting over her, for not building up the importance of the day, for not preparing her for school with the same care and concern with which we prepared her brother.

The challenge, of course, is making sure she knows that although she has no special needs, she still remains very special in her father’s eyes. I hope she knows that. I think she does.

David Tyler is the publisher of Eagle Newspapers and Syracuse Parent. He can be reached at dyler@eaglenewsonline.com.

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