Thursday, November 08, 2007

Growing up

In my birth family, I was the second of two daughters. My sister, 4 years older than me, was a sickly child from the start. She had severe scoliosis, that's curvature of the spine, so severe that one shoulder was higher than the other, one leg shorter, and it compromised pulmonary function because her ribs actually pressed into the area of one lung. In addition, she had a bad heart, and my parents were apparently told that she wouldn't live to adolescence. As a result, they spoiled her, and I guess, as a parent myself, I can now somewhat understand that. She was born in 1947, after all, and although she had spinal fusion to correct the curvature, and bone splicing done to lenghthen her leg, she didn't and couldn't have a normal childhood, being bedfast for long lenths of time. For grades 1-4 she had a private tutor that came to the house. That would have been when I was 2 to 6 years old, and her tutor, bless her, had "worksheets" and "lessons" for me too, undoubtably to keep me out of her hair. As a result, I started first grade at age 5, already knowing much of how to read, write, spell, add, and so forth. My sister did attend public school from grade 5 on, but as I later learned, she was also rated as "retarded" although my folks would never say so and my mother especially would get furious if anyone implied that my sister wasn't "normal". Anyway, this is all background to the real point I wanted to make.

Do you know of families who have several children, and one of them is special needs? If so, and if this is a family you interact with, spare some effort and interest for the siblings of that 'special' child. Time and again I have seen parents, so caught up in their responsibilites for one child, that the more self-sufficient kids are, well, taken for granted. The parents may be a little too impatient if one of those children has a problem, a little too preoccupied to praise them, a little too uninvolved in activities with those whose needs are less. I wasn't jealous of the attention my sister got, but I grew up to be far more shy and socially backward than other kids. I was 'marginalized', in the background, on the fringes, of any activity where my sister was present, which included pretty much everything.

I guess the reason this came up for me now, is that a young friend is having her second child and I was invited to her baby shower. I will be sure to bring an additional small gift for her son, now 4, because it is hard for kids to see loads of gifts coming into the house, but not for them. One of the other women invited has a son with cerebral palsy, and although he is an amiable and energetic boy, I will ask after his older brother too, to find out how he is doing. It is awkward for me, I want to tell mothers like her about how it was for me, but maybe it's best not. Things have changed a lot in 50 years, and support for a special needs child must include counseling and support for the siblings, in this day and time. Doesn't it? Surely it does, right?

1 comment :

Carolyn said...

I would think so too. You've brought up a great point here Marilyn. We should pay more heed to other siblings as well in those situations. I guess my mindset was from the time when you'd see the special kids sort of looked over or neglected and maybe that is why we feel we must respond to them first & foremost. But times have changed. There are so many programs now for them to get into, and special olympics...

I suppose in many circumstances, there isn't any reason not to treat them different than their other siblings.