It was a Sunday morning, and we were frantically rounding up our four young children at church, when a few words from an acquaintance stopped us in our tracks. It was Christmas time, and all the children were supposed to sing in the Sunday school program that evening. Our son, who uses a wheelchair and is nonverbal and DeafBlind, was going to be part of the program with all the other children. As this person looked down at Aaron sitting in his chair, she asked, “Is HE going to be in the program? He can’t sing.” Many emotions stirred in us immediately—anger and hurt at the insensitivity of this individual and even embarrassment and self-doubt. Maybe we should not have put him in the musical.
It was our son Tyler, who was only 4 years old at the time, who answered the woman simply and eloquently as we stood there still stumbling for the words to say. Tyler said with confidence and pride, “My brother can sing. He sings with his eyes.” If some day you meet our son Aaron, you will know what Tyler is talking about—because Aaron does sing with his eyes and he says more with one smile than most of us can say with a thousand words.
But it was Tyler who amazed us the most with his answer. It reflected acceptance, insight, and maturity beyond his years. This was a turning point for us. We know that in all the worrying we had done over our typically developing children, we had lost sight of the benefits that come from having a sibling with special needs. It is not an easy road for siblings, but along the way they learn skills and form attitudes that can help them throughout life. Their experiences are not really that different from ours as parents. They didn’t choose this road for themselves, and through the tough times they learn that life is not to be taken for granted. And with our help, they can emerge as stronger, more sensitive, and self-assured human beings, just like us as parents.
We’ve spent a lot of time worrying about the effects of the extra attention that our special needs children get. How could we possibly explain to a two year old why the physical therapist was coming to play with his baby sister, but not with him? She is “special,” but so is he. Was this going to make him feel insecure? Would he feel too much pressure to be the one to succeed because his siblings wouldn’t be able to do all that he was able to accomplish? Would he grow up resentful or angry?
In spite of the difficulties, there are great joys and unique opportunities that our typical siblings experience as well. The siblings see all of it, sometimes more than we do. We have a lot to learn from our typical kids and we are learned to listen to what they are not saying as well as what they are. We don't worry so much about our typical kds like we used to. We’re learning to worry less and experience life more. We believe that God has called them to this life just he has called us--He made no mistakes putting our family together and He knows the struggles that our kids face. He also has allowed such incredible depth of character to be formed within our children through the experiences they have had within their family of origin.
As we continuely and purposefully seek to enjoy the little blessings we have been given in this life and seek to learn from the difficult times that come our way, just maybe our attitude will shape the attitudes of our children. But most likely, it will be our children teaching us...