I have 5 children, but only one of them has special needs. Sometimes I’ve wondered what life would have been like if we only had our son. Perhaps, I would’ve been able to focus on certain aspects of his needs if he was our only child. But then, I consider that each member of our family has had an integral part in the growth and development of our son. And as I ponder this even more, my children have been able to glean important life lessons because of their brother’s special needs.
Lessons on Patience
This is probably the big one. As children get older, effective oral communication becomes more vital in relationship building. Communication being one of my son’s weaknesses, you can imagine that friendships with his peers are rare. If you stick him in a playground full of kids of all ages, you will likely find him running around with the toddlers.
When other children his age can simply ignore him, his siblings can’t do that and still live under the same roof. But to do that peaceably, they have to learn patience. Patience when he can’t fully express what he wants. Patience when he misunderstands them. Patience when he repeats his questions multiple times and expects them to go along with it.
Lessons on Sympathy
Tied to patience, my children are learning how to sympathize. Without sympathy, the appearance of patience is, in reality, like a covered pot that can boil over at any second if left over the heat too long. True patience is motivated by a genuine sympathy for the challenges of another. When a child has a difficult time asking me a question at the dinner table because of too much chatter from the others, it’s an opportunity to remind them that their brother faces that struggle everyday but at ten times the volume.
Lessons on Impartiality
I love how our 2-year-old girl claims no favorites among her siblings. She spends time with each and every one of them without partiality. When the world can be so cruel to the ones who dance to a different beat, I’m thankful for the acceptance and love that my son can receive from his sister. Little ones don’t struggle with this. They have no perception of “differentness” in people. It’s a valuable lesson my older children are learning when they realize that sometimes they may have to forego playing with 5 friends in order to come alongside their brother in need of one friend.
Lessons on Prayer
We face challenges daily, multiple times each day. This is not a runny nose that lasts only a few days. This is our life. And though our son thrives on repetition and requires predictable routines, changes in his anxieties and obsessions abound. And we are all affected. No amount of expert help can sufficiently ease the burden that this has presented for our family. Our children must learn that as often as we are met with these trials, so should our meetings with God be.
Lessons on Love
Shortly after an especially upsetting confrontation with their brother, one of my kids tearfully expressed, “How could I love someone who is being mean to me?” And though my heart ached for my child’s frustration, the Lord gave me the perfect opportunity to give the perfect answer.
“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” ~ Romans 5:8
My children may manifest patience, possess sympathy, display impartiality, and utter prayers for their brother, but he can still hurt their feelings. How difficult it is to love someone who is most unlovely! But on the cross, Jesus did.