A Special Needs Child Can Disrupt the Sibling Dynamic

“A child with a disability who needs extra care can disrupt the sibling dynamic.” White-Campbell Psychological Birth Order Inventory (PBOI)

I kept flipping back and forth in a 1200 word article I’d read in Real Simple Magazine (June 2015). I was hoping it contained more information, more direction on what to expect and how to guide said sibling through this unchartered territory. There was nothing.

Does this mean my firstborn isn’t really my firstborn?

I’ve already wondered if he’s more like an only. There are so many times that we take him places without his brother because we have caregivers at home taking care of Nafe. He gets a lot of one-on-one time with us. Even when we’re all together he doesn’t have a sibling to play with in the typical way. (Remember this video of him riding on the back of the gait trainer? So not normal play.)

Does this mean my firstborn is more like one of ten kids?

Other times I wonder if it’s almost like he has ten other siblings because when Nafe gets sick and is hospitalized it’s all hands on deck and he gets shuffled around in the midst of the drama. Even routine specialist and therapy appointments communicate to him loudly and rather rudely, It’s not all about you!

Is this good for him? Is it bad? I don’t know. It just IS our family.

The article later said, “Nothing affects personality more than genetics. Roughly half of your personality is the temperament you were born with…A child’s temperament can trump birth order–or at least blur the lines.”

It’s easy to make assumptions about people based on where they line up in the birth order. In some ways it helps us make sense of relational dynamics or tendencies toward certain characteristics. I for one, probably hold pretty true to a firstborn. So does my husband. Yet we can’t hang onto these studies and research on sibling dynamics as a way to completely understand our families, our workplaces, our world. Life simply isn’t that predictable.

Still, I would like to know more about these mystery siblings of special needs kids.

We’ve come so far in understanding the types of therapy, medications, and programs that help special needs kids. I think we will eventually grow in our understanding of ways to help siblings of special needs kids too. I’ve started to file away articles and information. Not surprisingly most of the research has been done on siblings of kids with Down syndrome. Generally the outcomes of those kids are good. Autism is more conflicted.

I want to know what makes these kids’ childhood experiences better or worse in light of their sibling? What information they need to know at which developmental age? Which people do they most need in their lives to feel supported? How can we resource them to be able to cope better?

The siblings of kids with special needs are their own minority. They have their own set of unique needs. They also have their own personalities.

From what I know of them first hand, is that they turn into inspiring and amazing adults. They are some of my most cherished friends because they are compassionate, caring, and patient. They are wise beyond their age. They have a perspective on the value of life many people do not have. They also have a type of trauma and loss from having lived with a special needs sibling not many people can relate to.

Selfy taken at the eye doctor.

Selfie taken at the eye doctor.

So what will become of this one? In many ways I worry about him more than Nafe.

I don’t know all the ways his brother will positively and negatively impact him. God does. I do know his great big personality is lighting up our world and brother’s. He’s creatively making his way through it. He’s smart as a whip. I am amazed by how someone can be so crazy silly, and so reflective and deep all at the same time. He’s for sure overriding birth order as he generously shares attention with his brother and is way more flexible than I am, even to this day as a mother.

The other day he had a friend over to play, “Hey, that’s my little brother Nafan! He has a special chromosome!”

Yep, that about sums it up. He’s pretty enthusiastic. Pretty proud.

You’re DNA is pretty special too buddy.

My book, Beauty in Broken Dreams: A Hopeful Handbook for the Early Years as a Special Needs Parent, is now available on Amazon!

Also be sure to check out my list of Favorite Books on Disability!


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