Family Life

5 Lessons My Children Are Learning From Their Brother’s Special Needs

I have 5 children, but only one of them has special needs. Sometimes I’ve wondered what life would have been like if we only had our son. Perhaps, I would’ve been able to focus on certain aspects of his needs if he was our only child. But then, I consider that each member of our family has had an integral part in the growth and development of our son. And as I ponder this even more, my children have been able to glean important life lessons because of their brother’s special needs.

Lessons on Patience

This is probably the big one. As children get older, effective oral communication becomes more vital in relationship building. Communication being one of my son’s weaknesses, you can imagine that friendships with his peers are rare. If you stick him in a playground full of kids of all ages, you will likely find him running around with the toddlers.

When other children his age can simply ignore him, his siblings can’t do that and still live under the same roof. But to do that peaceably, they have to learn patience. Patience when he can’t fully express what he wants. Patience when he misunderstands them. Patience when he repeats his questions multiple times and expects them to go along with it.

Lessons on Sympathy

Tied to patience, my children are learning how to sympathize. Without sympathy, the appearance of patience is, in reality, like a covered pot that can boil over at any second if left over the heat too long. True patience is motivated by a genuine sympathy for the challenges of another. When a child has a difficult time asking me a question at the dinner table because of too much chatter from the others, it’s an opportunity to remind them that their brother faces that struggle everyday but at ten times the volume.

Lessons on Impartiality

I love how our 2-year-old girl claims no favorites among her siblings. She spends time with each and every one of them without partiality. When the world can be so cruel to the ones who dance to a different beat, I’m thankful for the acceptance and love that my son can receive from his sister. Little ones don’t struggle with this. They have no perception of “differentness” in people. It’s a valuable lesson my older children are learning when they realize that sometimes they may have to forego playing with 5 friends in order to come alongside their brother in need of one friend.

Lessons on Prayer

We face challenges daily, multiple times each day. This is not a runny nose that lasts only a few days. This is our life. And though our son thrives on repetition and requires predictable routines, changes in his anxieties and obsessions abound. And we are all affected. No amount of expert help can sufficiently ease the burden that this has presented for our family. Our children must learn that as often as we are met with these trials, so should our meetings with God be.

Lessons on Love

Shortly after an especially upsetting confrontation with their brother, one of my kids tearfully expressed, “How could I love someone who is being mean to me?” And though my heart ached for my child’s frustration, the Lord gave me the perfect opportunity to give the perfect answer.

“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” ~ Romans 5:8

My children may manifest patience, possess sympathy, display impartiality, and utter prayers for their brother, but he can still hurt their feelings. How difficult it is to love someone who is most unlovely! But on the cross, Jesus did.

Does your special needs child have siblings? What lessons do you want them to learn?

5 Lessons My Children are Learning from Their Brother's Special Needs

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To the Ones Who Reached Out to My Child

My son was just trying to make conversation, but it was very one-sided. If he’s passionate about something, he will talk your ear off, regardless of your opinions on the subject. Clearly, the other child on the receiving end of this information overload just didn’t get my son. “There’s something wrong with his brain,” I overheard him say to someone else, and I realized he was talking about my child.

At that moment, I wanted to cry but controlled it to spare myself from being the center of attention at a public place. I wanted to scoop up my child, put my arms around him, and shield him from any hurt, intentional or unintentional, that will come from this world.

But I know putting him in a protective bubble is not what’s best. As cruel as the world can sometimes be, there are people God has placed in my child’s path to reach out to him, and you are one of them. You may be thinking, “Me? What did I do?”

You greeted him.

A simple “hello” goes a long way. Far too many of us are preoccupied with our own world or the world being displayed on the tiny screen in our hands, that we fail to look up and notice the person right in front of us, who could use a simple smile to brighten his day.

You listened to him.

Not only did you say “hi”, but you asked the loaded question, “How are you?” Perhaps, you were not expecting a detailed catalog of all the Minions and their unique characteristics or a list of voice actors from The Lego Movie, but you looked at him and listened to it all.

You hugged him.

I think this assures him of acceptance by you. Isolation is his fear, as is the case with many of us, so a handshake, a hug, or a high-five allow him to experience the human connection that any person seeks after.

You invited him.

He seemed content to be alone, but you went out of your way to invite him to sit with you. Honestly, social situations are still challenging for him, so he probably felt awkward about accepting the invitation. Nonetheless, you took a courageous step with a seemingly simple kind gesture.

You became his friend.

He doesn’t have very many friends. In fact, if you asked him who they are, he would list names of family members … brothers, sisters, mom, and dad. But you … he mentioned you. You became his friend.

Approaching someone who’s “different” can be intimidating. I understand that. After all, if you’re not crossing paths, why take the detour to intentionally go to that person? Why risk the potential awkwardness of the encounter? Would it even make a difference?

Yes, it does … it certainly does.

Trusting God

The Road Ahead

041/365 - April 29, 2009Gabriel’s eyes gleamed with excitement when we entered the small room. The lights were bright for such a small room. The walls were covered with pictures of children of all ages. Then, my son’s enthusiasm came to a sudden pause. “Am I getting a shot, Mommy?” “No, not today.” Back to the excitement again as if there had been no interruption in his thoughts. It wasn’t long before the doctor came in.

It had been about four years since we discussed Gabriel’s development with a doctor. At his last appointment, the pediatrician on his case basically told us, “Just keep doing what you’re doing. No followup appointments are necessary, but call me if you have any other concerns.” We contacted him once after the encouragement of a couple of speech therapists, who thought Gabriel should be re-evaluated. They were convinced that he has autism. His doctor disagreed. So, we left it alone.

RoadIt has not been an easy road since then. This is the time of year when many of us are looking back, reflecting and assessing. Gabriel has had many improvements in his speech and other areas. Indeed God is good! But, as we turn our gaze forward, we are also left with many questions and frustrations. As far as we can observe, there is still a gap between his developmental age and his chronological age, and at times, it seems the gap is widening. The Lord is reminding me to cast my cares on Him because He has not changed. He is still good!

At this recent appointment, the pediatrician said she would refer us to the specialist, who deals with such cases. This was the same specialist, who did not want to re-test him four years ago. My heart sunk a little, anticipating that we will have to go down the same road again, leaving us with no solid answers. Perhaps it will be different this time. Perhaps we’ll actually get a diagnosis that makes sense. Those tests and evaluations were never easy for Gabriel. Am I ready to do this again?

After the visit to the doctor, Gabriel and I stopped at a store to pick up a few random items. As we walked across the parking lot, he held my hand. I gently squeezed his hand and playfully swung his arm back and forth. He laughed and said, “Do it again, Mommy!”

I don’t know yet what we’ll do next, but diagnosis or not, I already know what my son needs most.

As we walked back to the car, I told him, “I love you, son. In the end, all that really matters is Jesus.”

 

(Photo credit 1: Morgan)
(Photo credit 2: Rick Harrison)