Living in the shadow of an autistic sibling

Film ‘This is My Brother’ gives viewers short glance into lives of four siblings to autistic children.

Hagit Ron-Rabinovich and her son Adam in the film 'This is My Brother'. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Hagit Ron-Rabinovich and her son Adam in the film 'This is My Brother'.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
“I also want to be autistic,” six-year-old Aviv declared to her father, Eyal Rubenstein, one morning.
Dumbfounded and tearyeyed, Rubenstein was unprepared to hear this from Aviv, the older sister of Gili, a fiveyear- old autistic girl.
Rubenstein a director and producer, shared this experience with journalist Hagit Ron-Rabinovich, a single mother to Ilai, a 17-year-old autistic boy, his brother Adam, 15, and daughters Alma, eight, and Michaella, four.
Together, the two decided to research, direct and produce a movie chronicling the often unheard narrative of the siblings of autistic children, This is My Brother.
“Everyone always asks me about Ilai, everyone asks about me and about his father, but nobody asks me about Adam,” Ron-Rabinovich said recently in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.
She shared her story of the joyous birth of her first child, Ilai, and the bliss of motherhood the first year and a half.
She was pregnant with Adam when she sensed something was off about Ilai.
“Adam was born and three days later we found out Ilai was autistic,” she recounted. “I do not remember anything from Adam’s babyhood, because I wasn’t there; I was running around from doctors to psychiatrists to try to solve the enigma of autism,” she said.
One day a forthright psychologist told her not to neglect her second child in the process.
“This really hit home and I have been very careful regarding Adam, always worried that he should be in the light and not in the shadows,” she said.
Ron-Rabinovich explained that many parents of autistic children find it very hard to strike a balance between caring for an autistic child and nurturing and giving attention to their siblings.
“Our goal in the movie is to ‘see these siblings,’ to give them the stage and to say, ‘You are right, it is very hard to live with an autistic child,’” she said.
This is My Brother chronicles the story of four siblings to autistic children, reflecting their fears and desires spanning three decades and phases in these children’s lives.
Noya, an eight-year-old girl whose 13-year-old sister Tal is autistic, worries that her sister doesn’t have any friends and will never be normal. Idan, a 17-year-old boy, views himself as a third parent to his younger brother Shahar, and reflects a maturity level well above the average teenage boy’s. Neeriya, 28, is an older sister to 26-yearold Dotan. She recounts how “as a child nobody saw me” and discusses her fear that she, too, will have an autistic child.
Adam sits down with his mother, Ron-Rabinovitch, in their favorite spot in the kitchen as the two reflect on his childhood, his feelings, and his experiences in growing up alongside his autistic brother.
“We didn’t find siblings who are sad, or invoke sympathy, or pity, we chose happy siblings, who are strong and energetic,” explained Ron-Rabinovitch.
Despite this, the movie depicts the embarrassment, the secretiveness, and the fast maturity of these siblings, she added.
“Our message is to give legitimization to these children to say, ‘Yes, I have an autistic brother or sister,’ and of course to pay attention to these siblings, to give them their time and space,” said Ron-Rabinovitch.
The film will debut (in Hebrew only) on Wednesday at 10:30 p.m. on Channel 2 as part of World Autism Awareness Day.
“This is a welcome initiative to broadcast this important film exactly on the date of World Autism Awareness Day, so that brothers and sisters will know that they are not alone and that the viewers will see and understand just a little more,” said Einat Cassuto-Shefi, director-general of ALUT – The Israeli Society for Autistic Children.
ALUT held a pre-screening of the film at an event at the YES Planet Ayalon theater in Ramat Gan on Monday in honor of the organization’s 40-year anniversary.
“ALUT recognized years ago the place we need to give those brothers and sisters through operating family centers around the country called ‘Brotherhood groups.’ In these groups, brothers and sisters are exposed to different ways of coping, receiving legitimacy and approval for their feelings, and learning to better know themselves and their desires,” Einat Cassuto-Shefi said.
This year, landmarks around the world – the Empire State building, the Sydney Opera House, the Burj Al Arab in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and others will light up blue to raise awareness on World Autism Awareness Day, April 2.