As the single parent of three children, one of whom has significant special needs, I often worried how our unique family dynamics impacted my other two children. My youngest, Kylie, was diagnosed with a neuro-developmental disorder at age 3. At that time her siblings, Kelsey and Cedric, were 7 and 10 years old. Despite some rough early years with their sister, the older two seemed to accept that our life was the way it was, and have grown up into great young adults. I am very proud of them, especially their natural ease when it comes to interacting with people of all abilities.
Their relationship with their sister gave them both understanding and kindness, and this was brought home to me by an experience my son had a few years ago at work. He was working for a cell phone company at the local mall. He was alone in the kiosk and was approached by a man who had some questions about a cell phone. They ended up talking for a while. Traffic at the mall was slow, and my son loves to share his knowledge about electronics. He said the man was nice, and they had a good conversation. When they were done, the man thanked him and left.
My son said the man got a little ways away from the kiosk when he abruptly turned around and came back. He walked up to my son and said he wanted to thank him again. My son said “You’re welcome…but what are you thanking me for?” He said the man paused…and then said…”For treating me just like everyone else.” He explained that he had a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome, a form of autism. He said often people don’t talk to him, or worse yet, treat him differently. He shook my son’s hand and walked away.
I’m not sure what touched me more, my son’s kindness, or his genuine confusion about why it was a big deal to this man. It showed me that my son doesn’t see what makes someone appear different, but instead focuses on the person inside. It also made me sad that this man had obviously experienced a lot of pain in his life, enough that he felt compelled to thank my son for something anyone else would have taken for granted.
I know that my older children’s experience and relationship with their sister has given them something they wouldn’t have had otherwise. It reassured me that the painful, chaotic, difficult early years after their sister’s diagnosis hadn’t damaged or scarred them. We made it through, and I think we are a better family…not despite it…but because of it.
~Submitted by Kristen Hawkins