When I was 10 years old, my younger brother was […]
Lily and her Uncle Adam
When I was 10 years old, my younger brother was diagnosed with autism. At the time, I didn’t understand what that meant or just how much autism would affect the lives of everyone in my family. My parents (and grandparents) did what they could to maintain a sense of “normalcy” in our home, but growing up with a sibling who has special needs can be tough. Through the good times and the bad, I’ve always felt the need to protect my brother. In fact, I can recall on more than one occasion when a stranger would stare for a few seconds too long or make an unnecessary comment about his behavior, and I wouldn’t hesitate to set them straight. Perhaps, during my angsty teenage years, with an expletive or two thrown in for good measure. But what happens when your own child begins to notice that her uncle is different? How do I teach Lily about a subject that many adults have trouble understanding? I want my daughter to be an advocate for, not just her uncle but, everyone who is differently-abled. I want her to help her peers understand and accept those who are different. And most importantly, I want her to be their friend. These are qualities that all parents should strive to instill in their children, but even more so for me because of my brother. Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot of literature out there about how or when to broach this topic, so I’m just going to have to wing it. First and foremost, I’m going to teach Lily that different does not mean less. No two people in the world are the same, and some people’s differences are just more noticeable than others. Secondly, a disability does not define the person. It’s just one of the many characteristics that make up who they are! And last but not least, people with special needs just want the same things that you do—friends, happiness and to feel included. It may take Lily many years to notice that her Uncle Adam does things a little differently, or she may pick up on it at a very young age. All I know is that she will see Adam as her fun-loving uncle before she see’s his disability. And whenever she starts asking questions, I’ll do my best to answer them.