Career Day at an elementary school ignited my childhood feelings of growing up with my brother, Nick, who has a disability:
I recently spoke before 2nd-5th grade students during a career day event at Estes Elementary School. Whenever I speak about my career path before audiences I naturally share how having a brother with a disability provided me with my drive and purpose.
After my presentation, a little girl came up to me and stated in her little 2nd grade voice, “I have a brother with Autism”.
I said to her, “You do? Then welcome to my special club young lady, because we are the cool sisters that God picked to be their siblings”.
She responded in an unsteady and scared little voice, “Yes, but I feel sorry for my brother”.
I kneeled down to look directly in her brown eyes that were starting to fill with tears and said, “He doesn’t want you to feel sorry for him, he wants you to be his door”.
She looked at me strangely. I wasn’t sure if I could say the right things to this 2nd grader in the moment I had, because I could hear her teacher encouraging everyone to get in line to go to the next presenter in another classroom. I said, “Yes a door! During life be that one person who opens the door of possibilities, the door to love, the door to friendships, the door to something he needs, but when you open that door don’t be afraid to walk through it first and take him with you. But most importantly, don’t forget to be his sister.”
This 2nd grade girl who was brave enough to approach me and share hugged me tight and hurried to get in line with her class. As I watched her walk away it took everything I had to not breakdown and cry because I flashed back to my 6 year old self. The little girl stood in line and glanced back at me, I could see she too was fighting back tears. I saw the weight on her shoulders. The weight that only a sibling could see. I saw the guilt she held inside her, the guilt only a sibling would understand. I saw a reflection of myself, and I knew in that moment she really didn’t mean to say she felt sorry for her brother. She said it because it’s what every sibling feels trying to process why their sibling is different. However, I know she will fight her entire life to make the world not feel sorry for him, but to see in him what she sees. Everything!
For obvious reasons , the content of this subject hits so close to home and my experiences and insights as they relate to siblings are sensitive to me. I want to highlight these emotions for my readers in a series of blogs, so I can dig deeper and explore those feelings. My hope in writing about this subject to validate and bring awareness to those siblings and their families that these emotions are normal and you are not alone. So, check back and continue to follow the series as I explore the emotions and thoughts siblings of individuals with a disability may experience.
The 5 Emotions a Sibling Experiences are highlighted below. Check back for a detailed Blog on each of these emotions…..
Guilt- because they have a disability and you do not.
Jealousy- fighting for parents’ attention is a child thing, but maybe a little more magnified when their sibling has a disability. Along with thinking that their sibling gets the “easy” way out of things such as chores, school work and other responsibilities and we the “typical” developing sibling will always be held to higher expectations.
Embarrassment- it’s not the disability itself that is embarrassing but situations that come along with it. We might always be scanning the room to see if others are watching or noticing that we do things “different”.
Hate- sometimes it’s just needing to hate the disability, not the person
The 3 P’s (Pride, Protective, Possession)
Pride- that God chose them to be their sibling and the realization that their sibling will teach them more about life than anything.
Protective – becoming the shield that blocks and pushes back the negativity in the world associated with disabilities.
Possession- the feeling that no one else can support or love their siblings like they can.
Parent takeaway: when your child (who doesn’t have the disability) ask you “why” they can’t go on a trip to Disney or “why” does their brother/sister have to come along…don’t let your first response be: you know why, your brother/sister can’t because they have “insert in their disability”. Let your answer be different. Don’t put the blame on the disability because you are giving a reason to resent the disability itself. Allow your children without disabilities to have the feelings and don’t shame them during their “cycle” of acceptance. Remember that moment when the doctor first told you about the diagnosis and the emotions you felt? As a sibling we go through those same emotions, but in a gradual way because we are young when we start to notice the differences in our siblings, so the cycles of emotions are delayed and can re-surface at times throughout our development of life.
Teacher takeaway: recognize when your student who is a sibling to someone with a disability seems distant. There will be times of social isolation, whether it is from guilt or just needing their “me” time. Just notice and show some extra attention. Also recognize when behaviors or learning styles may mimic that of their sibling. For example: I had to have speech classes when I was in elementary school because I talked like my brother. He was my closest friend so I would mimic his speech and styles.
Community Member takeaway: don’t assume siblings know everything about the disability. Don’t overwhelm them with your questions to help you understand, because they may be cycling through the emotions above and trying to understand it themselves. There is timing for this, but allow them to just be a kid with you. Allow them the opportunity to have a break from home life, and being the understanding sibling. Provide them with a different outlet, mine was softball.