Siblings of Children with Special Needs

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nathan-sm.jpgSiblings of children with special needs often have a unique role in their families. Here’s how Nathan grew to appreciate the gifts his sister, Amanda, brought to his life.

When you look at my family of three – me, my mom and dad – we appear to be just like many other families.  I am a regular kid who plays guitar, soccer, and Super Smash Brothers.  I learned to drive, voted for the first time, and held a summer job.  But, there is something very different about me.  I am also a brother, interpreter, protector, playmate, friend, and the eventual overseer of my sister’s life.

Amanda has cerebral palsy, developmental delays, and the biggest smile I’ve ever seen.  At age nineteen, she cannot read, walk, or speak clearly, among a multitude of other issues, but she spreads joy just like Tinker Bell’s pixie dust from the Disney movies she loves. My memories and experiences as Amanda’s brother absolutely transformed me into the person I am today.

Having Amanda for a sister taught me I need to stand up for her and, by extension others needing support and protection.  When in 5th grade, my school bus passed hers on the way home one day.  My mom was waiting as they unloaded her, and as the wheelchair ramp lowered, one kid on my bus jokingly asked, “Hey, who’s the retarded girl?” “That’s my sister,” I said.  I remember feeling not embarrassment, but a surge of anger, and most overwhelmingly, pride. I carry that pride with me today, not only in myself for standing up for Amanda, but for the things that she works so hard to do.

Amanda’s presence in my family demonstrates the meaning of unwavering compassion and patience. She has required constant attention growing up, needing help with even simple actions: medications, having food cut up, being dressed, changed, and bathed. Though these needs are completely necessary, the attention she received frustrated me as a child. However, eventually I came to understand, and that understanding created patience and compassion from witnessing my parents’ full-time efforts to help her.

Long rides in the car to appointments, hours spent in waiting rooms, therapy sessions, hospital visits, and school meetings for Amanda have been a frequent experience throughout my life.  To fill time, I became an early reader, carrying a book with me wherever we went.  I was reading Harry Potter by first grade.  When I came to a word I didn’t know, I put a tiny sticky note by the word to mark it.  After Amanda went to bed, my parents read with me, reviewing the new words of the day.  I became a voracious reader, devouring books, escaping to impossible places through my imagination where anything could be accomplished. Amanda’s unique situation sparked my reading obsession, consequently teaching me to love learning and achieving.

Through words penned on pages of novels, I dreamt of castles, magic wands, dragons, and whimsically optimistic heroes. I dreamt of spies, undercover agents, and gadgets. At fifteen, my dreams shifted to change, innovation, and exploration. I dreamt of space travel, medical advancements, and physical discoveries. Now I dream of achieving my doctorate, pursuing research in physics, and advancing the knowledge of humanity.

Amanda is essential to my life and completes my family of four. She sparked in me the passion and hope I require to fulfill my most important dream, to make a mark on the world, to do something with my life that no one else can do. Because of the experiences and stories that she has given me, I will complete any goal that I set for myself, and I will accomplish greatness.

-Nathan Pinard