Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Little Miss Katie... growing up with special siblings

Kate belongs to a very exclusive club of being a sibling to special needs kids. The normal older brother/younger sister relationship has been altered.

I receive questions from lots of typical and special needs parents about the relationship between the boys and Kate. There are also a lot of misconceptions about our reasons for having another child after having special needs kids. I literally get asked these questions by complete strangers while walking through the grocery store. Here are the most common ones and my responses to them.

"How do you handle the fact that your daughter will pass up the boys in skills? Don't your boys get jealous or feel bad about themselves?"
  • My answer to this is that we make a big deal about everything that each one of the kids does. If Andrew stands independently, we cheer... even if he is 8 years old. If Kate learns to skip, we cheer. If Benjamin writes his name clearly, he gets a high five. If Kate writes her name clearly, she gets a high five. We treat each child's needs and achievements as their own. There is rarely comparison between the kids regarding their developmental skills. I try really hard not to say, "Your four-year old sister can do this, why can't you?" just like I wouldn't expect Kate to do something that her 8-year old brothers can. This type of environment has allowed our kids to respect and understand each other's differences and become cheerleaders for each other. It always amazes me to see Kate tell Benjamin that he is doing a good job when he does something new when she knows perfectly well how to do it (like getting dressed independently). They also help each other with things that are difficult for the other child. Benjamin can often be found getting Andrew a drink of water since Andrew can't stand to reach it on his own; or, Kate holds Benjamin's hand when we are in a distracting place so that he doesn't wander; or, Andrew helps Benjamin read words that are just a little too difficult for him. They work together and help each other with the things that they each struggle with. I am not saying that in the future there won't be things that my boys are frustrated with or that they won't get angry that Kate can so easily do these things. We just haven't reached that point yet.

"Doesn't Kate get jealous about all of the attention that your boys get?"
  • Yes. Just like the boys get jealous of the attention that Kate gets. I try really really hard to make sure that each kid gets the attention that they need and that nobody gets more than another. It is a completely impossible task, but I try my hardest. Sometimes, Andrew demands attention because we are working on a new skill. Sometimes, Benjamin demands attention because of homeschooling. Sometimes, Kate demands attention because, well, she is a 4 year old little girl. All kids want and need individual attention from Mommy. It isn't fair to Kate for the boys to get more attention and it isn't fair to the boys for Kate to get more attention. Yes, the boys have needs, but so does Kate. If I notice that one of my kids is acting up more than normal, I look at the amount of INDIVIDUAL attention that they have received lately. More often than not, that child is behaving badly because their needs haven't been met. I will often ask, "Do you need some special Mommy (or Daddy) time?" Usually, their answer is yes and usually their behavior improves. But really, anyone with more than one child has to balance the same thing. My boys' needs just adds an interesting (and difficult) twist to it.
Kate and Mommy on a special trip to Five Guys and the fountains.
"Did you have Kate so that she can take care of the boys in the future?"
  • Nope. If she wants to, great. If not, great. I hope that she will make sure that they are well taken care of because she loves them for who they are and truly cares about them. However, I did not have my child so that I can plan out the rest of her life. She may want to be a research marine biologist (like I wanted to be) or a traveling salesperson (who knows) or a Broadway performer. I am not going to hold her back for the benefit of her brothers. We will make sure that things are taken care of for them if they cannot take care of themselves. At this point, we don't know what the future holds for our boys. They are amazing and are achieving new things everyday. They might have to take care of her, for all I know, and my hope is that the sibling love between them will be enough that they want to help one another out.
Kate helping to lead the boys through the corn maze.
They got lost, by the way. Andrew found our way out.
"Your hands are so full with the boys. Why did you decide to have another child?"
  • I have always wanted a lot of kids. I also wanted to experience a normal pregnancy and a typically developing child. The timing of Kate's pregnancy was God's timing, and it has been fantastic to have her as an addition to our family. And really, who cares whether or not my hands are full. Some people feel overwhelmed with one child and some people don't. There are times that I feel flustered or overwhelmed. But, there are also times that I am completely joyful and fulfilled.
Ben reading the nursery rhyme book to Kate.

"Don't you think that the boys will hurt Kate's development?"
  • Yes and no. Kate was a very early talker. It was probably in part due to the fact that I had a more than the average training in speech development because of my boys. However, she was a very late walker. The reason for this was that Andrew was crawling and that all of the toys were accessible for him. Plus, she did what she saw older kids do. I used to say that Kate could pretend to have special needs better than any other kid I knew. She loved to copy the things that the boys would do, even if they were completely "abnormal" special needs behaviors. Just recently, she told me, "Mommy, when I get really excited, I need to shake my hands and shake my head and squeak, just like the boys." These are all behaviors that are atypical and that we are working on.  So, she may pick up some undesirable things and may not be the first child in her age group to walk, but everything will come to her like it does any typical child. However, she is developing into an extremely caring, understanding individual. She is constantly watching out for her brothers and has no fear or apprehension around kids with special needs. She is compassionate. These are attributes that every parent wishes for their kids, but she has the benefit of being able to put into practice regularly at a very young age. 
Kate was cold in the grocery store,
so Andrew put his arms around her to keep her warm.

What I want people to understand is that siblings of special needs kids are just kids who have been exposed to a world that most children are not. There are going to be issues along the way, but overall, I feel that this exposure will make her into a very compassionate adult. 

Kate and Ben helping each other rake up leaves.

1 comment:

  1. I love this post so so much xxx it was perfect timing as I watched by baby take some steps and my seven year old son be so proud but then cry and cry. ( my eldest has cp, his brother does not) Katie is just beautiful and I totally agree she will be a better person for it as we all are xxx
    Lovely to find your blog x