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To the Woman Who Asked My Brother With Special Needs to Dance

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I have the pleasure of being the big sister to a brother with special needs. Mark, my brother, was my initiation into this world of disability and complex medical needs. The way he’s handled this life so beautifully, and the way he’s been cared for and supported by my parents, are the foundation for my outlook on life with a son with special needs of my own. 

I have a million memories over the years of times when I watched my brother struggle to gain acceptance. I can’t even count the amount of times I’ve heard him cry out in sadness or rage for his desire to be “normal.” Those words cut each time they’re heard. I want so badly to take that pain for him. I need so desperately to show him “normal” is just another way to say boring, to show him “normal” is just a dryer setting and nothing more. But words in that situation can’t change the hurt in his heart or the need to see himself as equal to his peers. 

And now, even at 30, “normal” is his biggest wish. The milestones of those his age and younger are the bar for success he holds himself to; it’s also why he feels less “normal” today than he did 10 years ago. The fact that we were prepping for our baby sister’s wedding also added slightly to this feeling. Mark was overjoyed for her and thrilled to gain a new family member, but would this event further highlight the “normal” things he’s so desperate for? 

As the day approached, Mark wore a proud smile for his sister. He was excited to participate. As the big day arrived, he mingled with people like I’ve never seen him do before. He laughed and enjoyed his time. 

Then as the night was coming to a close, an amazing moment happened: The date of one of the other groomsmen approached Mark and asked him for a dance. He happily agreed. Her name was Hope, and that’s exactly what she gave us that night. 

That three-minute slow dance fundamentally changing Mark’s world. In that moment, he was just another one of the guys dancing with a pretty girl he met a wedding. He referrers to it now as “the dance heard ’round the world.” I shared a quick “thank you” and a tearful hug that night with her, though it wasn’t nearly enough. That kindness meant the world to us. Her gift gave Mark confidence and pride like he’s never had before. She gave him a piece of “normal” and with that, contentment. 

Hope, if this finds you, I want you to know you changed a life that night. And you also showed me my wish, hopes and desires for not only my brother but also my son can come true because there are incredible people like you who will bridge the gap and include someone.

And to a mother and a sister of people with special needs, that is everything.


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Originally published: July 15, 2015
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