Being the sibling to a special needs child is incredibly challenging.
Every day Beckett, 11, is tested by his 9-year-old little brother Carson. Beckett is right to claim his life is unfair. Sometimes he articulates it with mature clarity. He’s aware of the impact his brother’s disabilities have on his life. In some ways, he is being robbed by not having a “typical” sibling. It’s tough for him, and he’s gotten emotional multiple times after incidents.
Beckett asks all the right questions about his brother. Why is he so erratic with his behavior? Why does he wake up some mornings at 4 and refuse to go back to sleep? Is he ever going to be normal? Can he be fixed? Why does he tantrum? Why does he hit?
There are no easy answers to most of his questions. We are honest with Beckett. He’s owed the truth. When he questions us about the future, we tell him we don’t know what the future holds for Carson and us. What we do know is he has made tremendous progress throughout his life. We expect that to continue but understand it might not.
While life is difficult, we remind him Carson has taught us so much about life. I am changed forever because of my journey with him and commitment to giving him his best life possible, whatever that may be. We embrace the now and hope and pray for the best for him.
When Carson has a tough day and Beckett is impacted, we remind him how his little brother has helped instill in him some amazing human qualities — compassion, empathy and forgiveness.
Beckett is his brother’s supporter and critic. It’s “typical” of a sibling relationship. There are glimpses when they are normal brothers. They bicker over unimportant things.
With Carson, it’s critical to have a short memory. This is difficult, of course, but Beckett gets it. He can’t hold a grudge against his brother. In Carson’s autistic mind, what’s done is done. It’s that simple. That’s not the case for Beckett, who will never forget years ago when his brother blindsided him and pushed him down the steps for no reason at all. As he looked up from the bottom injured, Carson laughed. He was forced to apologize, but it wasn’t sincere. Beckett understands he must forgive Carson and move on. He doesn’t forget though and that’s why he’s afraid of his little brother. It’s tough to see Beckett jump when his brother comes up behind him around the pool or near an amusement ride platform.
Fortunately, through all this, Beckett has become a protector of his brother. That’s incredibly important. He will do anything for Carson. At a water park this summer, we observed it. The boys were playing on an attached barrel in the kiddie area. Several bigger boys came over and started pushing Carson off the barrel. Carson’s instinct was to give it up. Beckett insisted he stay and stood between the boys and Carson. We could hear Beckett looking up at the boys – a whole head taller — saying his brother has special needs and is playing with it. The boys wouldn’t accept it, but Beckett was not going to let them force Carson off. Pam’s instinct was to intervene, but we waited. As we watched, Beckett continued talking back and forth with the boys. It didn’t look like it was friendly at first, but the boys were eventually all playing together in the water.
When we asked Beckett later about it, he said they weren’t going to bully his brother. He diffused a situation masterfully and stood up for his brother. The end result was Carson and Beckett both making day friends.
A recent blog post, titled “The Emotional Impact of being a Sibling to A Brother/Sister with a Disability” by Amanda Owen, expounded on this issue. She was speaking to a group of elementary school children about growing up with a brother with a disability.
“After my presentation, a little girl came up to me and stated in her little 2nd grade voice, “I have a brother with Autism”.
I said to her, “You do? Then welcome to my special club young lady, because we are the cool sisters that God picked to be their siblings.”
She responded in an unsteady and scared little voice, “Yes, but I feel sorry for my brother.”
I kneeled down to look directly in her brown eyes that were starting to fill with tears and said, “He doesn’t want you to feel sorry for him, he wants you to be his door.”
… I said, “Yes a door! During life be that one person who opens the door of possibilities, the door to love, the door to friendships, the door to something he needs, but when you open that door don’t be afraid to walk through it first and take him with you. But most importantly, don’t forget to be his sister.
… I saw the weight on her shoulders. The weight that only a sibling could see. I saw the guilt she held inside her, the guilt only a sibling would understand. I saw a reflection of myself, and I knew in that moment she really didn’t mean to say she felt sorry for her brother. She said it because it’s what every sibling feels trying to process why their sibling is different. However, I know she will fight her entire life to make the world not feel sorry for him, but to see in him what she sees. Everything!”