When the Special Needs Siblings Don’t Play Nice

by Jamie Sumner

We took the kids to the park last week because:

  1. It was fifty degrees and they needed airing out
  2. They were out of school and crazy
  3. You can only go to Costco and the mall so much

The actual park experience had been great. I walked Charlie around the perimeter in his wheelchair where he waved hello to every person, bench, and squirrel. Our twins ran rampant under wooden tunnels, through people’s legs, and down (and up) all the slides.

We managed to fill up those couple of morning hours that feel just a tiny bit like parent purgatory before naptime. Everyone was happy and tired when we piled back in the car. I let my guard down, breathed out the breath that meant I could sit, facing forward for fifteen minutes without moving. They always sense when there’s a perimeter break, like velociraptors.

Charlie started to cry and I turned to see his little sister, Cora, standing next to him with a book in her hand carefully avoiding my eye. My husband was buckling in Jonas, her twin brother, so she was free to roam the territory. The book was actually only three sad pages from Goodnight Moon (the rest had been sacrificed to car rides of yore). But they had been Charlie’s three pages. He had been flipping through them contentedly before Cora’s nimble theft.

Here’s how it went down after the crying began:

Me: “Cora, was Charlie holding that first?”

Cora: Long pause. “No.”

Me: “Yes, he was Cora. Now give that back to him.”

Charlie continues to cry and point to the book and then sign more. From Cora, silence.

Me: “Cora, do not make me say it again.”

Cora: Looks to me then Charlie. She bends down and picks up a toy SUV whose battery died sometime in July. “No, he pointing to this. Charlie want this one.” She actually reaches around his arm, outstretched toward the book, and plops the SUV in his lap.

Silence as I get out, climb in the back, give Charlie the book, and buckle/restrain Cora whose screams reach the heavens.

Me to my husband: “I hate it when she treats her brother like that.”

Husband: “They’re only two.”

Me: Pointed silence.

Most of the time the twins hug him and make sure he has his blanket/toy/book/water on his tray. They love to help push him in the wheelchair and walk him in to school. They could be the poster twins for special needs siblings. But man, it gets me when they fill his silence with what they want to hear. It seems meaner somehow, willfully ignoring his words when he can’t fight back with his own.

I know the stories of the siblings of kids with special needs who seem to love in a different way with a more patient heart. I hope for this with the twins every day. But it’s not always Hallmark over here. We get the uncensored version, too.

As I was sifting through my anger in the car on the way home from the park (mostly the serenity prayer on repeat), I realized that Cora’s actions were better than mine had been lately. She was treating him like a brother, a brother whom she would manipulate any chance she could get. She’d do the same to her twin, Jonas.

It was me who was treating Charlie like he had special needs. To Cora, he’s just Charlie, and that’s how I want it to stay. After all, isn’t that what I want the world to see too, Charlie—the boy—minus the diagnoses? If I’m going to preach equality and fairness in this family, I’d better practice it for all our sakes.

Of course, I’m still going to have to teach the velociraptors to share.

Author: Jamie Sumner • Date: 4/17/2017

About the Author

Jamie Sumner is a mom to a son with cerebral palsy and twins. She writes with humor about infertility and special needs parenting on her website http://mom-gene.com  Her articles have appeared in Complex Child Magazine, Parenting Special Needs Magazine, Parent.co Magazine, Tribe Magazine, Her View From Home Magazine, and Literary Mama.

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