“Nichole, do you need the smile in my pocket?” As a little girl, my momma would offer me her “extra” smile when I was feeling sad. I had forgotten she used to say this until just the other day, as we all eventually turn into a version of our parents, I looked at my own daughter’s downcast face and offered, “Grace, do you need the smile in my pocket?” It was without thought that these words tumbled out of my mouth, and I couldn’t help but smile at the realization of what I had just said. But my little girl was not smiling. Not even close.
It was not a look of discontentment or boredom that covered her face. There was no trace of selfishness. Instead, it was a look of deep sorrow – an emotion that flooded her heart and reflected in her eyes. I knew this look. I had seen it before.
My sweet girl buried her face in her hands and wept. She wept for her baby brother. She was burdened for him as the new school year approached. She prayed that he would make new friends and that his teachers would love him; because it’s hard watching her baby brother try to find acceptance in a world where autism is still very misunderstood.
This was the cry of a special needs sibling.
We know that parents of special needs children sometimes need extra support and encouragement, but we often forget that special needs siblings also daily give of themselves, their time, attention, and love. They need support and encouragement too.
Here are just a few things we have learned from our precious daughter.
Special Needs Siblings Feel Deeply
Special needs siblings are exposed at a very early age to the lack of understanding our society has for people with disabilities; many times, they feel responsible to make a way for their sibling. Special needs siblings want so much to have a connection with their brother or sister; toys, movie preference, and activities take a backseat to the possible opportunity of simply winning a glance, a smile, or even a touch from them. Just as my husband and I sit and pour out our hearts to one another about the future and well-being of our special needs son, our daughter also loves her baby brother and is concerned for him, praying desperately for him to succeed. We should always keep in mind the deep heart aches of a special needs sibling.
Special Needs Siblings Sacrifice Greatly
Therapy sessions, doctor appointments, procedures, and tests … this is the life of a special needs family. We try to remind our daughter that she doesn’t have to be the doctor, the therapist, or the teacher. “Just be his big sister,” we say as she prompts her baby brother with verbal cues before she will allow him to have another pretzel bite. Disability becomes a family affair. Our homes are not like everyone else’s. Our lives have a unique ebb and flow. In the midst of all this, we desperately try to make special time for our daughter. Time that is only for her. Because many special needs siblings, by nature, give of themselves relentlessly.
Special Needs Siblings Need Encouragement
If you know a child who is a special needs sibling, please encourage them. They carry burdens heavier than many their age. They have also acquired beautiful gifts that take many of us a lifetime to learn. They recognize that love requires no words. They know the significance of being a friend to all people regardless of ability. They have learned to find the beauty in life amidst the struggle. They have learned to choose relationship over possessions. It’s true that special needs siblings carry a perspective of life that is weighty at times and yet equally as beautiful. The weight of these gifts should be matched by as much encouragement as we can give.
Special needs siblings feel deeply, sacrifice greatly, and need our encouragement. Maybe you could offer them the smile in your pocket?
Nichole Huggins is a wife and mother of two. As the parent of a special needs child, Nichole willingly discloses the trials, triumphs, and life lessons of having a child with autism. She writes at www.LoveinaDifferentLanguage.com where she offers insight and hope as she shares about parenting, autism, and the faith that holds it together.