Dear Siblings: a Letter to Those With a Special Needs Siblings

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This letter is for “the others”: for my two kids who are not special needs, who are considered typical, and for everyone who has a sibling with any special need(s).

I’m sorry. I’m sorry he takes up more of my time than you do. I’m sorry I talk about his needs more than yours. I’m sorry that you sometimes have different rules and different expectations than he does. I’m sorry that sometimes we let him do things that you are not allowed to do and even when you know why, it doesn’t feel fair. I’m sorry that even though you may be younger, you may be expected to act older. I’m sorry that sometimes he embarrasses you at school and other places, and that we refuse to make him apologize for that. I’m sorry for any time you feel shunted aside, ignored, or in any way less—less loved, less cared for, less important—because we are spending time and energy on him and his needs. You are not any of those things, and we are so, so sorry if we have made you feel that way even once. As I’m sure you know his needs are often more immediate, or more acute than yours, but we have to do a better job of letting you know that yours are no less important, and you are no less important. I’m sorry if you feel like you can’t complain about him because he has special needs or if we defend him more than we should. Please remember: you are loved, you amazing, you are unique, and I promise we’ll remember it too. 

Please remember: you are loved, you amazing, you are unique, and I promise we’ll remember it too.

I also want to say: thank you. Thank you for your limitless compassion for your brother. I know he gets loud and gets in your face and says the same thing over and over. I know he goes crazy if you touch what’s his and he eats all the snacks and he can be very thoughtless in the way he talks. I know it has to be annoying and maybe even painful. Thank you for being kind. Thank you for defending him—and yes, I know all about that. I know about the incident on the bus and what you said (and I cried when another mom told me). I know about the playground and you getting angry at the boy who was bullying him, and I’m more grateful than you realize! Thank you for being his first line of defense when I can’t be. Thank you for laughing with him, teasing him, goofing off with him, and demonstrating that he is first of all your brother, and any labels come next.

Did you know he defines how peers should treat him based on how you do treat him? Whew…I thank God he has you. Thank you for walking next to him and biting your tongue. Thank you for teaching me to look past the next appointment or crisis or challenge and really see Big J as simply himself. You do that better than anyone else does. Thank you for loving him. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Your role isn’t easy, but you two are extraordinary. I see you. I notice.

But I’m also not sorry. I’m not sorry that Big J is the way he is. I wouldn’t change him, even to make your life easier, even to make my life easier, even to make his life easier. I bet really, deep down, you wouldn’t either. So I’m not sorry for that. I’m not sorry for him. Do I sometimes wish I could smooth the way? Make things a little easier? Sure. But I wouldn’t change his diagnosis any more than I would change your laugh or the way you sneeze like a kitten or the way you leap into a hug just like you’re still 2 years old. I wouldn’t take away one bit of how God has designed him OR you. God knows best, and I love you all just the way you are. And I’m not sorry that you’ve had to grow up just a hint faster than your classmates who have all typical siblings, because boy have you shined!

His challenges are part of your story, too, and God is using Big J to shape you just as much as you are shaping him. When you acknowledge that what makes him different could never make him less, you absorb a bit of deep, abiding wisdom that you won’t lose as you grow older. The compassion you’re developing will serve you well, that I can promise! It’s not easy sometimes, but nothing really good ever is. You know that whole “building character” thing adults are always going on about? You’re doing it. And from my seat, it’s an amazing thing to watch.

Yup, I mess up. Every single day, in fact. But thanks for loving me, warts and all, and for being a gift to me—and to Big J! I am blessed to know you and love you and be yours.

Love, Mom

"Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other in love and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity." - Colossians 3:12-14

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