Special needs siblings

When you have a child with special needs, it’s easy to focus most of your worry and anxiety on that child. But what about the siblings? Every situation is unique, of course, but here’s a look at that perspective.

Family with special needs child

Over the past five years, my family has gone through a lot. We had two daughters when our son was born, and they noticed immediately that things were not normal — probably because we disappeared and spent all our time in the NICU, by the side of our new baby boy.When we brought our newborn home, eleven days later, we settled into something resembling normalcy — but that was quickly interrupted by regular visits from physical, occupational, and behavioral therapists. At four months old, our son had a schedule to rival a busy CEO’s: appointments, consults, workouts — the situation was, in short, anything but normal.

Always special

It wasn’t until our son was two years old that we had a diagnosis, and a sense that this was not something he would outgrow, but rather a permanent condition. And so, over the last three-plus years, we have become a special needs family. It’s something we’ve accepted in stages, and I suspect that when I look back several years from now, I will see that even now I have not fully arrived at where I need to be.For the last two years, I have spent an enormous amount of time worrying about my children. Certainly, I worry about my son with special needs, but I also worry — a lot — about my daughters, particularly my oldest, who is nearly 10. Her experience is completely different from mine. I am an adult, ostensibly equipped with the tools to handle life’s tragedies and disappointments. I can understand that it’s okay, and even normal, to love my son but to hate the situation.

Sisters and brothers in the middle

boy with autism and his big sisterDoes my daughter have that same assurance? When she hears kids talk about her brother, when she answers their questions, when she accepts her role as his sister, is she building resentment in her heart? Or has the experience already given her the understanding and compassion she needs?I brought home a book of essays written by siblings of children with special needs. My daughter read it last night, and on nearly every page, she stopped to read me something out loud. At one point, she looked up and said, “Hey, I want to go to a SibShop!” Clearly, she is aware that she has feelings that need to be processed.Her perspective is fascinating. On one page, she looked up and said, “This kid’s brother just has autism. But he can read and talk — he’s reading Goosebumps. This kid is fine.”This kid “just” has autism. It’s nothing to her, something easily handled.I watch her as she looks for children like her brother, evaluating symptoms in her mind. Comparing, measuring, considering. I hear her when she tells people there is nothing wrong with her brother, he’s just different. I see her as she takes his hand and walks with him, helps him line up his trucks just so, gets him what he needs.Some people say that you only get what you can handle. I don’t believe that anymore, but I do believe that sometimes we are blessed with the ability to see the extraordinary in everyday actions. If we didn’t have our son, would we know how amazing our daughter is?

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