I’m Thankful For You: My Son, The Best Big Brother

(Editor’s Note: This article was provided by Carrie Indelicato and is part of Cooper’s, ‘I’m Thankful For You’ Campaign.)

I want to tell you about the best big brother in the whole wide world, my oldest son Danny.

From the moment Danny saw his baby brother Aaron he was in love! I would often come into Aaron’s room in the morning only to find Danny had gotten there first, talking to his baby brother through the slats in his crib. Whether he was planting a kiss on Aaron’s big, irresistible cheeks, or making silly faces and cracking him up, they’ve been best friends from the get go. Danny looks out for his brother and has always been there with a smooch, a piggy back ride, or to read him his favorite book.

Our autism journey started a little after Aaron turned one.  While other friends’ children were reaching certain milestones, Aaron began demonstrating some concerning behavior.  During mealtime, when I was told he would be most responsive, I would try desperately (and in vain) to get him to talk to me or make the simple sign for “more.”  Instead, he would divert his eyes and bang his head aggressively on the back of the highchair.  There were other things that a lot of well meaning family and friends would down play, such as the loss of certain skills and words, or  when I would call his name he wouldn’t stop or look my way.  He was young enough and happy enough (again, a precious gift from the relationship he has with his brother) and very smart and loving, so it was easy for others to shrug it off and say, “he just needs to talk.”  But compared to the development of his brother when he was that age, I saw glaring differences.

And as a stay at home mom who was around him all the time, I saw every tiny detail in his little day to day life.  I saw him obsessively play with letters and numbers and hold them close to his face, or put his face right against the tv when his favorite show came on.  My instincts told me to do some research and after reading a few articles, I realized he was “stimming” on these things.  He learned his ABC’s before he could even say them, pointing them out anytime I asked.  Letters and numbers came easily to him.  He also loved to read, and again, could point out words in the books if I asked before he could even say them.  He would use his letters to spell out words on a board, and he could even pick up chalk and write his abc’s on a chalkboard all before he turned two.  Since he was “overdeveloped” in these areas, it was easy to convince ourselves that he was just gifted, and that the speech would eventually come.

We began a series of evaluations when he turned two.  We had his hearing checked a couple of times.  We enrolled him in a program called Missouri First Steps, where a language therapist would come into our home and work with him an hour a week.  I remember my first, tearful interview with the therapist when she asked, “What are your goals?”  I choked out my reply, “I just want to hear my baby say ‘mama.”  After one year of services, my three year old son had about five words in his vocabulary and still wasn’t looking at me or his daddy when we talked to him.

As a mom, you don’t want to be right about these types of things.  You don’t want the vindication that comes from an official diagnosis.  After three years of the emotional roller coaster between “he’s fine” and “something is wrong and I’m not overreacting”, we received an official diagnosis of level 2 autism at the St. Louis Mercy Kids Autism Center.

I’m very thankful that even before Aaron’s diagnosis, he had been receiving language therapy and occupational therapy at his pre-school through the Special School District.  This fall they added ABA therapy to his IEP and after just a few months, I have seen major development.  It seems almost every day he is saying or doing something new, asking for what he needs or pretend playing with the castle that his brother gave him for his 4th birthday.  That along with the help and support of my husband, our family, and church family have been–and I don’t say this lightly–life savers.  Everyone in each of these circles has poured into my life and Aaron’s little life with love, understanding, and lots of prayers.  He is a much loved little boy, that’s for sure!

Aaron’s communication skills are extremely limited. But this hasn’t changed the relationship between these boys at all. In fact, I often give the credit to Danny for Aaron being so affectionate and attentive to other children, as he’s been loved on and entertained by his big brother for so long. Without a doubt, Danny’s exuberant personality and his passion for life have helped Aaron develop in immeasurable ways.

I am the most thankful for the relationship that Aaron has with his big brother.  I get to see it played out every day, the way they love and enjoy each other.  Of course, they have the big brother/little brother tiffs just like any other family.  But Danny’s big brother instincts kick into overdrive anytime Aaron is upset or hurt.  He truly is there for him.  In fact, just the other day, as Danny was packing for a sleepover at a friend’s house, my husband asked him, “(Your friend) is your best friend, isn’t he?”  Without missing a beat, Danny responded, “No.  Aaron is my best friend.”

And that’s the kind of thing that therapy couldn’t provide, and autism couldn’t take away.

It makes this mom’s heart so full to know that my boys love each other with a big, rambunctious, unconditional love. I know they will continue to take care of each other as they get older.

Danny, I’m so proud to be your mom and I know if he could tell you, Aaron would say that you’re his best friend and his hero!


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