The Other Brother

There are volumes written about special needs kids.  We talk about them on the news, on television shows, and on blogs.  There are speculations about what causes Autism, and stories about the lives of families who live with various challenges.

There is another population, though, that we don’t hear much about.  In my mind, I’ve always thought of them (us) as “the others.”

These are the kids who don’t have special needs.  They are “typical,” or “normal,” or whatever word is the PC norm these days.  They are the brothers and sisters of the special needs kids that we hear about on the news.

They are part of the background.

I think I have an unusual perspective.  I am both a sibling and a parent of a special needs individual.  I know the demands–emotionally, physically, and time-wise–of parenting a special needs child.  I also know what it’s like to be the “normal” part of the special needs equation.

It’s tough.

Now I have a son who is in the same position I was as a child, so I know.  I know a lot of how he feels, and how hard it can be.

Even though you know your parents love you, and you know they provide for all of your needs, it is hard sometimes to deal with the fact that your sister needs so much more.  It isn’t anyone’s fault, or choice, but the situation remains the same.  Looking back as an adult, especially since I have a special needs daughter now, it is very clear.  But I remember what it was like as a kid.  I remember how it seemed like I wasn’t as important as my sister, how everyone was fighting for her educational needs, and how I felt like everyone just assumed I was okay.

Here’s the kicker: I was okay.  I just didn’t think so at the time.

Like I said, now I can see that I was wrong to feel that way.  The simple fact is, my sister’s needs were greater.  She couldn’t fight for herself, so someone else had to.  If I hadn’t been such a selfish shit, I could have fought for her, too.

My son is so much better than me.  Already he is very defensive of his sister.  Don’t get me wrong–they have their moments, just like my sister and I still have our moments.  I’ve written before about how our relationship was a very typical sister relationship.  My kids are the same–she’s in his room, he changes her TV channel, she’s touching his stuff, she hits him on the head with a spoon–you get it.  But I digress.  My point was that he is very understanding of his sister, and he watches out for her.  He told me a while back that she was going to live with him when he got older, so I could have a break.

Yeah, I know.

I have tried very, VERY hard over the years to make sure my son always knew that he was just as important as his sister.  I have fought tooth and nail for his education.  We load up just like the Beverly Hillbillies and head off to soccer games.  We camp, and go to the beach, and the zoo, and anywhere else we want to go.  Sure, it would be easier to stay home.  It’s very tempting, especially as the years go by and I’m getting a little older and a little slower.  But it isn’t just my son who gets to experience all of these wonderful things–it’s all of us.  And so it’s worth it.  It’s important for ALL of us to do things besides run to the doctor or the therapist.








This is all of us, with the exception of my husband taking the picture, walking back from a sort-of local nature center.  That’s my daughter riding on my sister’s lap, and my son riding on the back of her wheelchair.  I’m driving.  My sister’s sight line was impaired by the large child in her face.

Even though it can be challenging to be one of these “other” siblings, there are benefits, too.

We others have little or no difficulty accepting people with various levels of challenges.  It’s no big deal to us.  We can talk to people with special needs without discomfort or doubt.  We like to look at various wheelchairs people are riding and chat with them about speed and handling.  We can see beyond what is on the surface, and realize the beautiful people who lie within.  These other, (not so) normal siblings are more kind-hearted, and courageous, and understanding.  They despise bullies, and most aren’t afraid to stand up to them.

My son is all of these things and more.  He has the capacity for amazing kindness, and a tolerance that outshines most adults I now.  He has cornered the market on compassion.  I would have a much more difficult time making it through my day if it wasn’t for my son.  We would all do well to learn from these other siblings, the ones who stand in the background.

Do these others have special needs?  No.  But can we call them normal? Ordinary?

No way.



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27 Comments on "The Other Brother"

  1. IASoupMama
    22/01/2013 at 11:54 am Permalink

    Oh, your son is extraordinary! What a great kid!

  2. Janice
    22/01/2013 at 12:41 pm Permalink

    He IS a great kid. Not perfect by any means, but great.

  3. Rachel
    22/01/2013 at 1:57 pm Permalink

    If your son is amazing it’s because you are amazing. I admire your fierce loyalty and love for your children and family. Very inspiring! 🙂

  4. Janice
    22/01/2013 at 2:27 pm Permalink

    I think he is a combination of our best qualities. No child that was all me could be that mellow.

  5. Jared Karol
    22/01/2013 at 2:09 pm Permalink

    It sounds like you have a wonderful family. As a former teacher, I interacted regularly w/ “normal” siblings of special needs kids, and, like your son, they were always the ones that saw the bigger picture, had a more compassionate way of looking at the world, a more mature perspective. They were always my favorite kids. Thanks for sharing your story.

  6. Janice
    22/01/2013 at 2:29 pm Permalink

    I’m glad you can provide confirmation of my thoughts. Thanks!

  7. Mayor Gia
    22/01/2013 at 5:48 pm Permalink

    Interesting! I’ve never really thought about what it was like for the sibling before..

  8. Janice
    22/01/2013 at 9:38 pm Permalink

    Most people don’t, I guess, even parents.

  9. Ken
    22/01/2013 at 6:21 pm Permalink

    While kids have the capacity to be like this, they just don’t pick up these qualities out of the blue. I suspect that he had a pretty good role model.

    Don’t be too hard on yourself. We’re ALL, only human. 🙂

  10. Yocheved
    22/01/2013 at 7:41 pm Permalink

    It sounds like you look a lot of lessons from your childhood, and used them to learn how to better raise your son. Great job!

    I’m chronically ill, and I have a special needs daughter. We take turns taking care of each other, so we both get both sides of the equation. We’ve both learned how to grow out of our selfishness, and become more sensitive, compassionate people. My daughter makes me a better person, and I pray that I have the same effect on her.

  11. Janice
    22/01/2013 at 9:39 pm Permalink

    Of course you do!

  12. Mod Mom Beyond IndieDom
    22/01/2013 at 7:47 pm Permalink

    This is a wonderful post! You perfectly described what siblings go through and how they come out of the experience as compassionate, kind, caring human beings – more so than they already were. My oldest son has stood on the sidelines while his younger brother dealt with his illness and while he little brother engages in the usual older sibling to younger brother rivalry, he’s fiercely protective and loving towards the little guy.

  13. Janice
    22/01/2013 at 9:41 pm Permalink

    As he should be. Wait until they get older, and the real beauty of their relationship will come to light.

  14. Natalie the Singingfool
    22/01/2013 at 8:08 pm Permalink

    What a beautiful, eye-opening piece. For those of us on the outside, it’s hard to see the challenges that such siblings go through; we just don’t see it.
    Thank you for allowing me to see.

  15. Janice
    22/01/2013 at 9:43 pm Permalink

    My pleasure.

  16. My Half Assed Life
    22/01/2013 at 10:18 pm Permalink

    I’ve always wondered what it was like for the other sibling. The one who didn’t need an advocate. The one who could do what was expected at the expected age. I will admit, I always thought those siblings caught the short end of the stick.

    Thank you for sharing this and letting me know that’s not true.

  17. Rogue Wino
    23/01/2013 at 1:55 am Permalink

    Interesting and thoughtful post that presents a perspective I had not considered. Thank you.

  18. Bee
    23/01/2013 at 10:00 am Permalink

    As the “special needs” one or, I guess when you’re an adult they call it “disabled,” this was a great post for me to read, because my sister is the “normal” one and she’s anything but normal.

    Have you heard of the book, “The Normal One” by Jeanne Safer? It covers just this topic.

  19. Janice
    23/01/2013 at 10:13 am Permalink

    I have not, but a thousand thanks for putting me on to it!

  20. Michelle Longo
    23/01/2013 at 12:45 pm Permalink

    Your son sounds wonderful. I think it’s hard for kids to have perspective as he does. It’s great that he has you to guide him as someone who went through it.

  21. Dana
    23/01/2013 at 3:19 pm Permalink

    Thank you for sharing this perspective. I have a very close friend whose sister is autistic. He never talks about her and I always wonder what kind of experiences he has shared with her.

  22. Jen
    23/01/2013 at 8:02 pm Permalink

    I have friends with special-needs kids and sometimes I do wonder about their siblings – whether there’s jealousy or a sense of unfairness because of the uneven sharing of parental attention. It seems to me, from the outside, that the parents are doing a decent job keeping them from being left out. And it sounds like you’re doing a great job too.

  23. Sarcasm Goddess
    23/01/2013 at 11:11 pm Permalink

    You are absolutely right. In no way are the others ordinary. Every kid is different and has their own needs, interests, wants. I am not a parent, but I imagine that regardless of how your kids are labeled, whether they’re all “special needs” or all “normal” or a mix of both, balancing meeting the needs of all of them is an art form.

  24. Jamie@SouthMainMuse
    24/01/2013 at 3:23 am Permalink

    I don’t think I’ve ever read anything from this perspective. Beautifully, done. So much of what you wrote touched me. “He told me a while back that she was going to live with him when he got older, so I could have a break.” That to me says it all. He realizes the strain on you. This shows the love he has for his sister because he wasn’t to live with her and help her navigate the world.

  25. Janice
    24/01/2013 at 9:33 am Permalink

    He is a wonderful kid.

  26. Dilovely
    24/01/2013 at 10:34 am Permalink

    I’m so glad you’ve written this. I think lots of parents and children need to read it. And your children are so blessed to have you, with your experience, as a mom. You are obviously doing a wonderful job.

    And btw, when you are a kid, it’s part of your role to be selfish and feel sorry for yourself. I’m pretty sure we all did it.

  27. Stacie
    24/01/2013 at 10:59 am Permalink

    Thank you for this perspective. Your son sounds amazing and he’s lucky to have a mom who is so sensitive to his needs!

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