“How come everyone is all excited when she finishes her math book, but nobody cares when I finish mine?” My son, age 11, struggled to get the words out, tears brimming and voice trembling.
My heart hurt. Because he was right. Not that nobody cared, but that we didn’t celebrate his accomplishments the same as hers. I hugged him hard, letting him cry. “I am so sorry. You are doing a fantastic job in school, and I am very proud of you. I’m sorry I don’t tell you that enough.”
Let me tell you a little secret about families with special needs kids. Many of them actually have other children, too. And very often those children get the short end of the deal. Mom (and Dad), of necessity, often have to give more time, energy, and attention to the needy child. And then by the time Mom gets to the other child, she is already exhausted.
When our twins were attending three types of therapy three days per week, every inch toward a developmental milestone was huge. They had to be taught everything. So the progress that other parents never even noticed in their children was, to us, an event to celebrate. Our boys didn’t just start walking one day around 12 months; they had to be taught over the course of 24- and 30-some months. And believe me, those first steps were cause for a party!
The flip side is that our other children, developing on a standard schedule, didn’t receive the same congratulations. After all, there was never a thought that they wouldn’t progress.
Recently I asked my 15-year-old daughter, our firstborn who, while exceptional, does not have the kind of special needs I’m talking about, “Do you think of our family as a special needs family?”
I thought she would say something about how it’s just normal for us, but she surprised me with a quick, “Yes!”
When I asked her to explain, she continued, “Well, I have to help them a lot. But sometimes I wonder how people see [Special Sibling]. Do they only see him as a kid with special needs, or do they understand that he uses words like miniscule?” (Special Sibling loves words.) So in the same sentence, she acknowledged both his differences and his normalness.
A number of years ago, I stood cribside during a frustrating night. In tears I prayed, “God, I have to believe that in the end this is best for all of us.” And I still believe it. While my other children don’t always realize the sacrifices they have made, I do, and I grieve over it at times.
However, I also see the incredible gift it is for my children to grow up in this family and have some unusual experiences with their siblings. I believe God uses this as a training ground for them and develops their character, compassion, patience, and love. But as with my son upset about his math success going unnoticed, I am reminded of how intentional I have to be to demonstrate my love and encouragement to them.
So next time you run into me at church, work, or the mall, maybe don’t ask about my special kids. Instead, ask about my other special kids!