I have been been and remain in your shoes as a special needs sibling. It is not a choice that I would have made for you but here we are playing the hand that we are dealt. I love you and your sister more than anyone or anything. Each year I have felt the bittersweetness of her birthdays but I never expected the same bittersweetness for you as you turn eight. To date I have tried to do the best job I can trying to preserve your childhood. On the Eve of your birthday I am here mourning your innocence and know that its end is inevitable and the realities of life will settle in. As your sister joins you in elementary school, you will no longer have your own entity, you will be sister to a special needs sibling. I have seen you mature to the point of saying that your sister needs extra help to outright asking me “Mom, does she have autism?” We spend extra time giving your sister extra help and I know that it is time taken away from you. There may be times where you feel embarrassed, jealous, angry and or sad. I want you to know that all of those feelings are acceptable and completely normal. I want you to know that you can always share those feelings with me even if you think they will hurt me. Whatever you say would not hurt me as much as the thought of you holding onto those feelings and suffering in silence. I’ve been there and done that and it only makes matters worse. Remember that feelings never just disappear. We work through them. We are a team and together we will celebrate one another’s successes and work to overcome obstacles. I need you to be part of our team. I’ll probably even ask you to explain the new way that they are teaching math to the two of us. I see how your sister looks up to you and is eager to share news with you. You are her role model more than anyone else in her world. From time to time you may find yourself grieving the sibling relationship that you wanted. However when you grow up with a sibling with special needs, I know firsthand, you will learn the meaning of true love, true heartache and how to differentiate real problems from frivolities. I love you to infinity and beyond!
Nicole Vivona is a licensed clinical social worker residing with her husband and two daughters and has a private practice in Oceanside. She grew up with an older sister with cerebral palsy among other medical conditions and is now a special needs parent to a daughter on the autism spectrum. This was written as a dedication to the special needs siblings who will always hold a special place in our world.