Protecting The Siblings of Special Needs: 5-5-11

The Others: I don’t know the statistics, but I would bet that most of us special needs parents have other children. I have spent a great deal of time amongst these other children, my other child, and the children of  families with whom we have shared Special Olympics or horse back riding programs, special needs camps or schools. They are always there, those other siblings, in the wings, waiting patiently, helping out or just being.

Tolerance, Patience, Empathy: Our son and the siblings of special needs children are an intriguing and eclectic group. Do these youngsters grow up to be more tolerant souls because of what they have witnessed? Are they more empathic and giving? From my limited experience, many seem to be. It is never surprising when these siblings choose a course of study in the helping professions. Do they harbor resentment for the sacrifices imposed on them? No doubt. Do they wrestle with guilt for being the “normal child.” No doubt. Each story is different but I am sure that the majority of parents face some pretty heart wrenching choices throughout those child rearing years, attempting to balance the needs of each child, in an environment where one child is not as facile or endowed as the other/s.

Maturing Siblings: I never dreamed that our children would grow to be friends some day. Their developmental differences were enormous and remain significant. In spite of these differences, they are more connected than ever before, socially linked enough to have a common parlance, and bonded by family and sincere mutual love. I see a lot of that connectedness amongst the siblings I encounter in our special needs world. I see them laugh and hang out with their siblings, or try to make their parents’ work lighter. I see them ride out what would be, in the conventional world, excruciatingly embarrassing moments. I read stories about famous people, such as Barbara Walters and Glee star Chris Colfer, who share powerful tales of the impact of a challenged sibling on the trajectory of  their lives.

What is The Point Here? As we journey through our daughter’s aging out and enter the adult phase of her very special life, our son is a major player in the process. He deserves mention, as do all the siblings of challenged children. It is a fine line one walks as a parent between encouraging sibling bonding and trying to avoid burdening the “typical child” with needs of the other. We walk that fine line, have always tried to steer in the direction of protecting both children. Did we do it enough? Do we ever as parents?

Planning for The Future: While at work on future plans for our daughter, our son’s happiness and freedom is a key factor. We are fortunate to have an extended family who can and will share with our son in monitoring our daughter’s safety and happiness after we are no longer in the game. Protecting that other child or children is top priority in my opinion, when making plans for the adult life of a special needs child. Fingers crossed, we will succeed in securing enough of a shot at happiness for both children, as much as parents are able to do.

Begin Early: This is another reason to begin early and actively in preparing for your special needs child’s adulthood. I am grateful that others guided us to bring in agencies while she was young enough to secure the essential services for her future. In this manner we are protecting her brother as well. We know each child is “special”, but we need to show it too.

©Jill Edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2011

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