Friday, December 16, 2016


This post is dedicated to my beautiful daughter Sam.

Much of what I write about is intended for caregivers, but there is a group of people that unfortunately are somewhat under-the-radar; siblings.  Being the sibling of a special needs person is an especially difficult place to be.

Sam was born when her brother was 17.  Tyler already had a predetermined dislike for small children so we knew that we would have to work hard to protect the best interest of both children.  

We were amazed how quickly Sam instinctively knew that her brother was different.  Even before she turned one and she was pulling herself up to stand against furniture, she wouldn't do it right next to him.  And for the most part, as far as Tyler was concerned, this kept the peace.  Somehow she understood to keep a safe cushion, we helped to act as a buffer, and Tyler exercised as much patience as he could afford.

I want to make this important point:  Sam now exhibits an unusual amount of compassion and empathy for other people.  One day we were at a wildlife park and she was feeding some small animals.  She saw a little girl without animal food and immediately went and shared hers....she never thought twice.  Another time she saw a neighbor friend crying after the last day of school.  As soon Sam got home she drew the girl a picture to try to cheer her up.  I believe that her experience with Tyler has given her that concern for others.  There have been wonderful puzzle pieces added to her picture that have Tyler's colors all over them.

It did not come without a price.  Sam lived in a house where she had to be careful which room she would enter at particular times.  If Tyler entered the room without someone else close by, she would scoot under a table or flee to another room.  This was her reality.  She had to live HER life on HIS terms.  When I was out of town she had to spend evenings with friends or relatives so she would remain secure while Robin cared for Tyler.  Most leisure activities depended on Tyler's condition and was done how he needed them to be done. While this was the smart and safe way to approach things, it also placed Sam's needs as a constant second.  Of course that was never the intention, but it was her reality.  She made tremendous sacrifices for the sake of the whole family.

There were things we did right, and other things that we would do over again.  If I were giving advice it would be:

1.  Make sure the sibling has their own identity and outside interests.  Sam had friends, pre-school, and dance.  Tyler was a big part of her life, but she also had her life in other ways

2.  Make sure there is personal time for the sibling.  I know Sam loved "Sam and Daddy day" where we would get lunch and do things just her and I.  It made her feel special.

3.  Have open and honest dialog with the sibling.  Do not minimize or excuse their feelings. Explain the things that happen in a way they can understand.  This will teach them that their input and feelings are as valuable as anyone else.

4.  Inform teachers of the sibling's home circumstances.  We asked all of Sam's teachers to inform us if they see anything unusual.  If Sam became depressed, anxious, or exhibited troubling behaviors we needed to know right away.  Fortunately, to this point, this has not been the case.  

5.  Do the little things.  You can't say "I love you" too often.  You can't hug them enough. The feeling of being nurtured and protected is pure gold

The sibling is part of the overall dynamic....true....but they are unique individuals that perhaps more than nearly everyone else, need to hear that and feel that every day.

Be well and God bless.   Tom

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