Typically when a child is born into a family, the proud parents of this newborn child are beyond words. Parents often idealize in their minds what it would be like to raise that child, nurture and coddle with their child. Then the obvious happens: the child either conforms to the parents expectations or doesn’t. Most children have an innate desire to love and long for their parent’s warmth, affection, and attention.
Life can throw a curve ball when that expectation becomes anything different than desired or needed. The child that has been born first, becomes the prized possession. Everyone soon quickly forgets how normalcy takes over. The child coos on time, sits, rolls over, and can even begin to take their first step soon after their arrival in the world. This child faces no difficulty in being accepted. If anything, this child is sought after by family members, family friends, and school personnel.
But what happened to the child that isn’t the favorite because that child is unimaginably “different”, “the exception to the norm”, and most devastatingly “atypical”. From the perspective of the family, that child is the one that captures all attention: positive or negative. That child has greater needs that far exceed any imagined by the family that rushes to judgment. Why does this child get to experience the abundance of attention, affection, and adoration?
In almost all households with children who have special-needs, autism, developmental disabilities or chronic illnesses, the parents’ attention understandably is focused on the child’s medical, behavioral and therapeutic needs. Hours are spent on the phone making appointments, finding the best doctor or therapist, or fighting with insurance companies for proper coverage.
Lost in all of this energy, worry, confusion, focus, exhaustion, single-mindedness and devotion, is the typical sibling. The brother or sister who is often left to the side, missing out on certain of childhood’s typical memories and experiences. The “missing” or “hidden” siblings.
The typical sibling must “fit into a mold” that society sets as the norm. Just because the typical sibling was born without developmental disabilities, defects in utero, and has the ability and capability to reach his/her milestones on time, does that separate this child out? Does that child grow up in a world that he/she feels misunderstood, looked upon more sensitively, and sometimes in his/her own way feel like the outcast to society? Can that child develop socially and make friends easily, or is there less resilience that child envelopes? Can other siblings that may be going through similar experiences, and are therefore able to fit in typically surround that child? These questions often swirl in the minds of family members, specifically those closest to the children they are raising.
Society dictates the standards that families often feel as a sense of belonging and acceptance. Hence, their offspring are a product of that deconstructed reality. So, who actually loses out on those same experiences that other families get to enjoy, participate in, and appreciate. Fitting into a mold is often constricting, but in this case it is about redeveloping the mold. Siblings can adapt, and families learn to do the same. Siblings become resilient, sensitive, and carry a greater sense of confidence because of what they grew up living with. Their environment is carefully woven, and their ambition is often set out to educate the world about differences, immorality, and injustice. These siblings even learn to fight down bullies, and become the protectors in society. Overall, despite the adversities they have faced being raised around their atypical sibling, they fare well. If the so-called “mold” is something they learn to tolerate and overcome, then the greatest question of all is how can we as a society accept and reach the same victory?
Below is a Keynote Speech given by Gil Epstein, the 13 year-old typical sibling to his sister with special-needs. Listen as Gil explains in brutally-honest words the experience that is common to the typical-sibling. Let’s break the mold and remember the “special” needs of the “typical” sibling too.