A couple of years ago, I got assailed by some posters in the comments section of a newspaper's parenting blog for discussing our decision to have another child in the wake of Archer's diagnosis with autism. I mentioned that we felt that interaction with a brother or sister would be good for Archer's development, and in a parenthetical aside, revealed that some professionals we had talked to termed that strategy "sibling therapy."
Those who responded negatively felt that we were setting our second child not to be her own person, but to be a support system for her brother. They thought it was as unfair to have a second child for any reason other than to nurture her life for its own sake, as unethical in its way as having another child with the thought of providing a source of organs or bone marrow for an older sibling with a life-threatening illness.
I certainly see their point, but such an interpretation of our decision is bound to be an impoverished one. Anyone who has a sick or disabled child has to evaluate the choice to have more children in light of their impact on the disadvantaged one. Suggesting that part of the decision is whether this will be good or bad for the existing child is just realistic, not cold and calculating.
But I often have occasion to revisit that decision with joy. There's no doubt that Cady Gray has been immensely good for Archer (as well as a delight in and of herself). Here's a signal example.
This afternoon I arrived home from church a little bit after the rest of my family, having stayed behind to count the offering as part of my vestry duties. I picked up fast food on the way home, and when I got there, I sat at the table and ate it while the kids, who had finished their lunch before I arrived, played in the living room.
As I was eating, Cady Gray came up to me with a rubber ball and asked if I could roll it with her in the hall. She had already asked Archer and Dad, who both told her they were busy. I said that I was still eating my lunch, but I'd be happy to play with her after her naptime.
Her little face crumpled, and she began to wail. I felt bad that she'd been turned down by everyone, and tried to make a deal with her to play later, but she refused to be consoled, shaking her head despondently at each new suggestion.
Suddenly I realized that Archer had come up behind her. In a sympathetic, cheerful voice, he said, "I'll play ball with you, Cady Gray."
She immediately swallowed her sobs, and wiping away tears, followed him to the hall, where he directed her with enthusiasm. Noel and I made sure to praise him extravagantly, both immediately and afterwards, for being so nice to his little sister. But there's something special for us in that moment.
It's not that he hasn't been compassionate to her before. In fact, if anything, he overreacts to her being upset -- he tries to hug her and comfort her even if she's too mad to be touched. He wants to fix it and get past it -- nothing's more disturbing to him than a disrupted environment, so he tries to do what we're doing to stop the disturbance and get back to normalcy.
It's that he knew why she was upset, and initiated a social interaction that responded to that fact. I couldn't have been more astounded if he had suddenly begun talking with her about ballerinas. He was engaged with her perspective, and he acted out of that understanding rather than out of his own narrowly obsessive world.
Cady Gray is her own person, and Lord knows I love her for her own adorable self. But seeing what Archer's been able to do with the opportunity to constantly practice social skills with a child who is not far removed from his developmental level in many areas (and is ahead in several), I know that we made the right decision when we decided to have another child. Not only for her, but for him.