We brothers and sisters of people with special needs, whether we are young, old, or somewhere in between, have much in common. Of course we are all individuals and as unique as everyone else on the planet, but there are some general traits and aptitudes that we tend to share. I would sure love to hear back from some of you after reading this blog to learn what you find to be true, how your experiences are different, and what your thoughts are as you read. Are you surprised? Are you validated? Do you get a feeling of “Oh, it’s not just me?”, or are you thinking “Hmmm, I am a sib and this doesn’t describe me at all”. Maybe you see another one of your sibs in some of the phrases. Please feel free to share.
There are three very typical behaviors taken on by children who grow up with a special needs’ sibling. We’ll call them “The Overachiever”, “The Invisible One” and the “Pick Me! Pick Me!”.
The Overachiever: Some sibs (it often happens to be the eldest, though not always) seem to try to overcompensate for the special needs’ siblings by working extra hard in school, being overly helpful in the house, behaving exceptionally well. They see that it is sometimes difficult for their parents to care for their sib, and so they do their part to make things easier. This sounds wonderful, and in many ways is, but hopefully these kids are having fun too, and not growing up too fast. One upshot of being The Overachiever is the good grades which may afford them scholarships and invitations to good colleges and universities. Another is possibly a lower risk lifestyle and safer adolescence with less chance of experimental drug or alcohol use, or young onset of sexual activity. The bad news is the self-induced pressure and high standards which might be difficult to maintain, and depressing when they can’t be lived up to. This is still a child we are talking about, after all.
The “Invisible One”: For the same reasons as The Overachiever, The Invisible One just figures if they fly below the radar it will make their parents’ lives easier. They may, unfortunately, be feeling an absence of attention from their parents since much of their focus is on the special needs’ sib, and so they feel a bit invisible, and then simply behave in a way that lives up to that persona. They’re not getting into lots of trouble, or failing in school, yet they’re not stand-outs either! They simply go along, hardly recognized, and are sometimes referred to as “easy” children. The good news, again, is possibly lower risk behavior, getting into very little trouble at home and in school. The bad news is maybe these children are not living up to their fullest potentials, or as happy and fulfilled as they could be. Maybe they want more out of life, or from their parents, but do not seek it because this would certainly make them visible.
The “Pick Me! Pick me!”: Oh boy, this can be a fun child. Often described as precocious, incorrigible, one who stands out from the rest of the family, or simply – trouble, this child wants to be noticed and plain refuses to be ignored! They may at times realize their parents’ attention is being directed to where it needs to be, and simultaneously feel badly or guilty for interrupting that, however, they also feel a compulsion to be noticed; to want to be “picked”. The good news is that they are strong-willed, which is a quality helpful in later life in terms of assertiveness and getting their needs met. It may, in fact, gain them the attention from their parents that they need. It gets them noticed alright! The downside is that they sometimes don’t mind if it entails breaking the law, doing badly in school, acting out at home. They simply WILL be noticed.
Of course all kids, regardless of whether or not they have a sibling who has special needs, may fit into one of those three types, or another type. In addition, so many other factors in a person’s life affect their coping styles, including whether or not they are from a two-parent household, examples set for them, birth order, etc. The point is there are surely some general commonalities, and I point them out because it can be enlightening for a sib to know this, and to determine or gain some insight as to why they behave the way they do or became the way they are. I was a “Pick Me” kid and I did not end up in jail. I did, however, give my parents a run for their money. I think, and sure hope, that now they would be proud of the way I’ve turned out. I mention this to point out that it is not always a negative thing. Kids learn to cope in various ways. It just is what it is.
Special needs’ sibs learn and experience their family life in ways that most kids don’t. Empathy is often a lovely outcome. Most sibs are not only compassionate, but are also quite open-minded and tolerant of people who aren’t “typical” in myriad of ways. They don’t tolerate bullying. A high percentage of sibs grow up to find themselves in the helping professions (nurses, teachers, therapists, physicians, etc). I think sibs are special and make the world a better place. It is my hope that you will communicate with each other, meet each other, find support and understanding in each other, thereby creating a better understanding within yourself, and feel less alone in the world. In my next blog I will discuss the current available supports to encourage this. Please stay tuned and consider reaching out.
Lisa Croce, RN, BSN