I’ve been thinking a great deal about sibling relationships recently, this is because my oldest son, Robin, turns 21 this month. He is older brother to Hardy, six. It could be argued that they’re very different types. Robin is reserved whereas Hardy is an explosion of a child. Robin is extremely sporty, Hardy spends all his time reading his atlas or working out sums. There is one factor that definitely links them – they were both tested for autistic spectrum disorder (ASD). 

With hindsight, there were lots of hints of ASD in Robin’s development – his speech was slow, he used to line his trains up on the carpet, then roll them backwards and forwards, watching the wheels turn. Sounds familiar…! As a young mum, I was very pragmatic. I was initially told that Robin probably did have an ASD. I was fine with this – probably in part because I didn’t have the faintest idea what it entailed. However, the diagnosis eventually came back negative. As a not so young mum (!) to Hardy, I feel much better able to take on the sometimes overwhelming workload involved in an ASD child. Making resources is not a problem - I spent years doing that as a teacher. The same is true of wrestling with behavioural strategies. I was also aware much, much earlier that Hardy’s development was different to the ‘norm’.

Experience is a wonderful thing. Robin has taught me some stunningly important lessons. I’m phenomenally lucky to have experienced his childhood for many reasons. From the point of view of a person raising a child with an ASD, I can say that he’s changed my attitude fundamentally. For me, academic achievement was everything. Robin went to a small independent primary school, which was wonderful, but when I saw his lost little face on his first visit to senior school, I knew I’d made an error. I firmly believe that the single thing that’s made the greatest difference to Robin’s life was finding hockey. For a lad who had no confidence, to be enveloped in a team, as part of a supportive group, has made all the difference to him. They were always there for him if he was having a hard time, as well as being a ready-made pool of friends to go out with. He’s just finished university, where he was slotted seamlessly into the hockey team. His part-time job was bar-tender in a night club. When I look back at the cripplingly shy little boy I remember, I can scarcely believe it. He’s now a confident young man, standing on the threshold of his future. 

I hope I can learn from Robin. Amongst many other things, I have a greater sense of perspective thanks to him. I hope I can avoid some of the pitfalls and mistakes that I have no doubt I would have made 15 years ago. No doubt I’ll make an entirely fresh set! C’est la vie…and what a wonderful one it is.

Cara is mum to Hardy, who is five and a half, has an autistic spectrum disorder, a complex language disorder and high levels of anxiety. She is currently taking an extended break from her career as a teacher. She fills her spare time making visual aids and resources for Hardy, and has a house full of PECS cards! She blogs at “Why My Autistic Son is Brilliant” which aims to focus on the positives of ASDs and living with a superhero who has an ASD.