Story By: Katie & Steve Keene
We are often asked, “What is life like for the siblings of your special needs children?” It’s a life experience that not many discuss, yet is very important for others to understand.
The siblings of special needs children will have the experience you create for them!
Just like any child, each sibling has unique needs, unique ways to feel and understand love, and unique ways they will need support for processing the world around them. Growing up in a home with siblings who have challenges can be a blessing or a curse, depending on the support that the parents provide.
In most homes we have witnessed, the parents do a lovely job balancing the needs of all the children, despite the challenge it poses to the parents .
For the children who are able to grow up in a home where they are supported, listened to, and welcomed into the family team, there are many benefits that can arise from the experience.
For these children life can be a very rich experience, with much beauty, like it is for any child who grows up in a loving home. But these children are given extra opportunities to see compassion modeled to them, and to take part in expressing it themselves. Often this develops an understanding well beyond their years, and a deeply rich internal life- if they are given the freedom to communicate and express authentically within their family.
These siblings can face challenges in the community outside their homes, because they will notice the distance between themselves and the other kids around them who cannot understand their home challenges or the lack of certain common experiences. Our children noticed that there were significant parts of their lives that their friends simply couldn’t relate with, which blocked them from having open discussions about it. This was painful at times, when they desired to be understood by their friends. Extra support was needed at home to help them process this challenge. It was an opportunity to learn and grow in the knowledge that in life many people will not understand you or your lifestyle, and you do not need to seek acceptance from others who cannot understand. Our confidence cannot be based on the opinions of others.
Siblings of special needs children, who have had the privilege of rolling up their sleeves to be included in their family team, know the value of celebrating wins. They learn that all wins, big or small, should be valued and celebrated, and it can become a bonding part of family life to set aside intentional time to have these celebrations over the good which has occurred.
Siblings of special needs children are just normal kids, despite the super-powers they are developing, if the environment is positive. They have good days, bad days, they love to be silly, too often want to aggravate each other, and they will stand up for each other faster than you could imagine. They want to be accepted and understood by their friends and their community, and they dream of what they will be when they grow up, just like everyone else.
A couple of super-powers that siblings of special needs children have the opportunity to develop are compassion, resilience, and deep relationships that are authentic and not image-driven. They also often develop an ability to see through the broken body of their sibling into the spirit and soul of the person they love so much- which translates out into the disabled community as a whole as the children mature. Seeing every person, regardless of ability level, as the precious human being they are is a gift so desperately needed in the world. This gift comes second-nature and organically to these children, when they are given the right environment to foster it’s growth.
We have witnessed the power of special needs siblings as adults, we have watched the development of special needs siblings in our home and the homes of other families in our communities, and we know there are bountiful gifts to be had by these siblings, when the environment permits it.
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