The Things My Daughter Never Did as a Special Needs Sibling


“I don’t want her to move away, Mom. I’m gonna miss her.”

I turned and looked back at my son as he attempted to hold back the tears that were beginning to choke him.

“I know, buddy,” I murmured, hovering in my indecision, not knowing whether a comforting hug or words of affirmation would be the best form of support for him at that moment.

Tears were now spilling freely down his cheeks, and with one long stride, he lurched over to where I stood and bear-hugged me with his massive arms, letting his sobs wrack his sizeable frame.

“She’s my best friend, Mom.”

“I know, buddy, I know,” I responded, trying my hardest to not cry.

From the moment that she turned 2 and a half, my daughter had decided she wanted a little brother, praying faithfully every night that God would give her the gift of a little brother of her very own. When my son was born around a year and a half later, my daughter was overjoyed. From that moment on, the two were inseparable.

As soon as he was mobile, my son constantly trailed after his older sister like a lost little puppy. His constant efforts almost looked like he was trying to climb into her pockets so he could always be with her. Even when it became clear there was something different about my son, the one person he always was able to connect with was his sister.

Never once did I hear my daughter complain the little brother she’d wanted so very badly was not exactly the little brother of which she’d dreamed.

Never once did she blame him for the lack of her friends, since most of her peers who spent any time with her knew her “special” brother would have to be part of the package, which was not something they could always cope with.

Never once did she make an issue of the countless times her brother’s actions had deeply embarrassed her in public, since his not-quite-socially-acceptable behaviors sometimes caused our family to be politely and awkwardly asked to leave establishments.

Never once did she bemoan the lack of personal freedom associated with having her little brother. She consistently chose to change her plans so she could accommodate his requests to be a part of her life.

Never once did she make an issue of the many toys, bits of furniture, DVDs and countless other items, which were destroyed on a regular basis by a little boy who wasn’t capable of knowing his own strength at the time.

Never once did she become resentful or even take advantage of the lull in his all-consuming attention during the few times my son did have a friend over. Instead, she’d choose to run interference on her brother’s behalf, standing in the gap between him and his friend so she could smooth over any potential miscommunications and explain any of her brother’s odd behaviors, empowering her brother in his attempts to keep a friend.

Never once did she lament his visible lack of social niceties. She instead chose to regularly make her brother participate in his older-sister-mandated “School of Manners,” patiently teaching him how to properly act at mealtimes, how to pull chairs out and open doors for ladies, how to alter between talking and eating (a mastery of which I greatly appreciated!) and to shake hands with people rather than hugging them.

Never once did she verbalize resentment over the innumerable hours I had to devote to him. Instead, she patiently waited until her brother was safely asleep before quietly asking me to watch a movie with her.

Never once did she exhibit any discomfort or annoyance with her brother’s constant requests to play. Instead, she took advantage of dress-up time to teach him about ancient Rome while they donned togas, the Cherokee Nation while they dressed in loincloths and face paint or European feudalism while they dressed in mismatched objects representing armor.

Throughout my son’s entire life, his sister has regularly championed him, regardless of the personal cost. She has spent countless hours playing with him, exploring the mysterious outdoors as well as visiting realms only made real in their minds. Instead of purchasing things for herself, she instead spent her birthday and Christmas money on Lego sets for her brother so he could experience the joy of building and know the thrill of success. She’s played Lego video games with her brother for hours on end and watched infinite numbers of “Lego Ninjago” and “Bill Nye, the Science Guy” episodes so her brother wouldn’t have to be alone. 

She’s selflessly given up opportunities so she could be there for her brother if he needed her. Every time she would be away from him, she’d make sure he would get a special gift as a treat to help fill the void felt as a result of his her absence. She helped her brother to housebreak his puppy so he could have someone who would wholly and completely be devoted to no one but him.

My son has never known what it’s like to live without his sister and his best friend. Although we don’t know what the future holds for her or for our family, the fact she’s now 18 means big changes are potentially right around the corner. My son knows this and is terrified of what that could possibly mean. As always, his sister has calmly talked him through her options, reminding him she will always be his best friend no matter where they both live.

That priceless gift is one which I always will cherish, knowing the rare gift that my daughter has given her brother — the gift of herself.

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