"Mom, why little brother receives special treatment?"
"He is special!" I replied after chewing on a bite of buttered toast for a couple of minutes.
"Am I not special?"
I looked at him while sipping my coffee. My eldest is usually inquisitive, but that day, I knew his question was beyond curiosity.
The week before that, while washing our hands in our bathroom sink, he shared a very keen observation. He told me how he noticed that his Dad sports patience and cool when his little brother makes mistakes, but has a short fuse when he does the same.
"I think Dad doesn't like me!"
My two boys are only 13 months apart, but my eldest has been low maintenance to a fault.
At 13 months, he would put himself to sleep whenever I was busy with his cranky younger brother. He would devise ways to calm him while having tantrums because he knew I was trying to get some household chores done. My neighbor lightheartedly shared once that it only came to her that we had kids when my youngest was born. That was how easy-to-handle, unselfish, and usually a joy, my firstborn was as a newborn and a toddler. And that morning, it occurred to me that my husband and I got so used with his bold disposition and boy-next-door personality that we forgot he was still a kid.
"You are special, too. Just a different type of special." I assured him that his father equally loves him and his brother. Probably, his Dad has not even thought that it appeared to him like that, I quipped. I thanked him for opening up and added that his Dad and I were always grateful for his patience and very mature perspective.
"Are you saying, you're proud of me?" He was smiling when I nodded.
Like adults, kids need assurance. And that day, I knew, that was all my firstborn wanted, and I gave him a good dose of it.
I raised the issue to my husband.
"I think we've been so focused with our youngest's developments and our own adjustment to his diagnosis that we forgot his big brother was also making sacrifices."
My husband was speechless. He did not expect our firstborn would arrive at such a conclusion, reminding us that a kid, regardless of personality, is still fragile mentally and emotionally.
According to the University of Michigan Health System (UMHS), siblings of children with special needs have special needs themselves. Given the fact that their sister or brother with special needs gets a bigger share of their parents' attention, they have their own sets of challenges and adjustments. On the other hand, having a special needs sibling also comes with opportunities. According to UMHS, kids who grow up with a sibling with special health or developmental needs may have more of a chance to develop many good qualities like:
- Acceptance of differences
- Compassion and helpfulness
- Kindness and supportiveness
- Empathy for others and insight into coping with challenges
- Dependability and loyalty that may come from standing up for their brother or sister
In the same vein, they may have many different and even conflicting feelings like:
- Fear of losing their sibling
- Being worried about their sibling
- Anger that no one pays attention to them
- Pressure to be or do what their sibling cannot
- Embarrassment about their sibling's differences
- Being jealous of the attention their brother/sister receives
- Resentment that they are unable to do things or go places because of their sibling
- Resentment of having to explain, support, and/or take care of their brother/sister
- Guilt for negative feelings they have toward their sibling or for not having the same problems
My firstborn has been nothing but a very caring and understanding big brother. I thank God that he has been open about his thoughts, giving me and my husband some reliable feedback for reflection. While I have not heard him broach the same issue again, I was reminded that establishing an honest and sincere communication with our kids goes a long way. And all kids are special, with special needs or just different-type special!
Photo Credit: Pia Ranslet
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