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Jealous of Autistic Sibling

March 2, 2014 | by Emuna Braverman

Our eldest son is acting out in strange ways. Is this a passing phase or a cry for help?

Dear Emuna,

My 15 year old son has always had trouble with school. Tests at a young age revealed several learning disabilities. School has never been easy for him, and it breaks my heart to see him struggling so much and still getting low marks. I recently cleaned out his closet and was surprised to find some of my 12 year olds' diapers hidden in his closet. (My twelve year-old has autism and still isn't toilet trained.) I showed my son what I had found and he (somewhat shamefacedly) admitted that he had been putting on his younger brother’s diapers in the bathroom, and wearing them around the house (under his clothes) for about a year and a half. And he recently bought himself a large pacifier designed for older toddlers and uses it whenever no one is in the house.

I think he is jealous that his younger special-needs brother receives a lot of attention. My question is: is this just a passing phase, or should we take his behavior as something more serious? Is it enough my husband and I sit down and talk to him?

Concerned Mother

Dear Concerned Mother,

In general, when there is one child in the house who is ill or who, in some dramatic way, requires significantly more attention than the other children, there is potential for the other children to act out. The solution to this is to make sure that the other children do get sufficient attention and some quality time – as hard as this is and as tired as you are.

The philosophical response is to recognize that the Almighty plans everything perfectly. This is the exact situation your 15-year-old is supposed to be in. It is not an accident that he has learning challenges and a brother with autism. If it were supposed to be different, it would be. You and your husband need to recognize this – and eventually, hopefully, your son will too. You shouldn’t need to add pity and/or guilt to the issues that plague you.

That said, I think that your son’s acting out is beyond a passing phase or a “normal” response. This is way past the point of sitting down and talking to him. A 15-year-old wearing diapers for a year and a half is a serious issue that calls for help. Of course, I can’t diagnose anything from an email and wouldn’t presume to. You need to get him to a professional as soon as possible and get him evaluated. I know how overwhelmed you must be but please do this as soon as possible. And as in all situations of trauma and stress, don’t forget that prayer is our most powerful tool.


Overweight Daughter

Dear Emuna,

I have a lovely, sweet 13-year-old daughter who is in 8th grade and weighs 210 pounds. She is 5'2". I have taken her to nutritionists, weight watchers, hypnotherapists, and a 12-step program. She cannot stick to anything. I am diabetic and so worried that she will develop diabetes also.

What is the best way for me to handle this problem? I am so worried about her.

Another Concerned Mother

Dear Another Concerned Mother,

Letters frequently come in bunches and this week is no exception. Once again I would recommend a serious medical professional. With any overweight child, the first step is to just provide healthy options in the house so they can choose appropriately if they want. The second is not to nag or make her feel badly. You don’t make clear whether she wanted to go to all those programs or not. From the lack of success, I’m guessing the answer is not.

Does she have regular physicals? Her physician should be the one advising her that she needs to address this issue and how. I would start there. Don’t mention weight, see how the physical goes and call the doctor to discuss the situation. Listen to his or her advice. If he says you must act now, then you may have to take drastic measures but the best would be if she came to it on her own.

Additionally, she may want to begin some type of talk therapy to discuss why she overeats. You have to support but not nudge – unless under doctor’s orders. My experience has been that sometime between 13 and 15, girls wake up to the need to get their physical selves in order. But you can’t rely on that. Keep watch and keep in touch with the doctor (make that appointment now!) And, as with the previous writer, don’t forget to ask for the Almighty’s help and guidance through this challenging time.


Resentful in Nursing Home

Dear Emuna,

My mother, 84, is a very sick person. She is in a wheelchair, gets insulin injections regularly and has a lot of other chronic problems. Due to these problems she lived with me and my family for the last 20 years. She was able to walk a little until last year when she has got an acute case of cholecystitis and almost died from it. She spent months in hospitals; I was there all this time, day and night. At some point she stopped recognizing me and I was told that there is a very little chance she will ever come back to her senses. My family and I decided to transfer her to a nursing home specializing in wheelchair patients.

After some months there she started feeling better. She still has dementia to some degree, but is able to recognize all family members, remembers many of things that we tell her during our visits and even tries to read books.

She absolutely refuses to stay in the nursing home and demands that we take her home immediately. My mother is not an easy person, and it was not so easy for my family to live with her even in better times. Besides, I am not able physically to take care of her on my own; she is very heavy. Our house is not so big and it will be a stress on the whole family to take a live-in-home caregiver.

Another problem is my work. I am a freelancer, and during the last two years spent with her in and out of hospitals I lost a big part of my clientele. I was able somehow revive my career during the months that she was in the nursing home, but I am absolutely sure I won't be able to preserve my work if we will take her in. My spouse and children made it clear that they prefer her to stay in the nursing home. I have tried to find a compromise, to take her home on weekends and holidays, it just made things worse. I am visiting her at least twice a week and I am trying to get her anything she wants. I am paying an additional fee to one of the staff members so that she will take an additional care of my mother. I have a brother who has a very serious problem and cannot help me much.

Today my mother told me that if I don't take her home she doesn't want to see me anymore and that I have no heart and she has no children. I do not know what to do. Whatever I choose, somebody in my family will be hurt.

No-Win Situation

Dear No-Win Situation,

I understand all the pain and confusion you must be feeling, how torn you are about the two unpalatable options. But I think your answer is in your letter. “My spouse and children made it clear that they prefer her to stay in the nursing home.” Your spouse and your children are your primary responsibility. The situation with your mother has taken a toll on them and they are no longer willing to pay the price. You need to focus on them.

Of course you can’t abandon your mother but, as you also mentioned, you are not even capable of caring for her in your home nor do you have room for a care-giver. You don’t really have a choice. It may be unfortunate but that is the reality. It is also unfortunate that, instead of expressing gratitude for all the time and attention you have given her over the years, your mother is threatening and unpleasant. I’m sure she is frightened and you are right to be compassionate and to (try to) keep visiting. You have gone to heroic measures helping your mother. You’ve been a dutiful child. But you can’t do the impossible – and no one (including the Almighty) expects you to.


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