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Having a Sibling with Special Needs Has Improved My Life

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Soon after my brother was born my parents weren’t sure if they would have more children. I understand why they felt that way; there were many unknowns about raising a child with special needs in 1979 and all that could be required of their time and emotions. But I am so glad they decided to have more children (my two younger sisters).

My brother will turn forty in May. He has Down Syndrome.

Having a sibling with special needs has enriched our lives in ways that easy street never could.


There are unique challenges that come with this reality and unparalleled joys as well. And I wouldn't trade either—both have their place in the development of a well-rounded soul.

I don’t know how my parents juggled it all, but I don’t remember being resentful; they supported and loved each of us individually and as a whole. My assertive, attention-seeking behavior probably was draining to my parents, as I now realize how full their plate was, but they graciously and sacrificially invested in the four of us.

When Brian was born, and in those early years, my mom was concerned about the effect on the rest of the family, in having a child with special needs. She didn’t want us girls to feel burdened, deprived, or resentful.

But looking back, my mom said, "I needn’t have worried; each of the girls has more than risen to the challenge. They embrace their brother and enjoy his uniqueness. All through the teenage years, Brian went with his younger sisters to Youth Group; on mission trips; to camp. We didn’t expect this, but the girls just did it. In recent years, all three daughters have had their brother come to their homes to stay. In one home, he’s the resident uncle; in the others’ places, he hangs with the singles crowd and experiences big city life."

We had a choice as a family, we could try to tie up everything in a tidy bow and constantly be frustrated, or we could face the unknown, together...getting stronger as we walked this winding path as a team.


As a first born girl, and self-proclaimed recovering perfectionist, the imperfect and unpredictable normally bring me great frustration, as I try to control and improve on all I can. But when I’m with my brother, I am presented with the fortunate opportunity to lower my unrealistic expectations and uncover great joy. And oh this is good for my try-hard soul.

The heartbreaks I experience when Brian is made fun of, make me a more compassionate human, and less machine-like. The unknowns about his future, cause me to be less annoyed by his quirks and more thankful for time spent together. The way he picks out just the right card to lift my spirit, after five seconds of “looking” at the Hallmark store, never ceases to amaze me.

Let me assure you, my brother is a gift to me. In my brother’s presence, I feel freed from the need to measure up. I don’t have to impress him (but man, I hate disappointing him).

Having a brother with special needs has been the perfect solution for this imperfect, perfectionistic sister to move toward emotional health (try saying that five times).

There were times I felt like I couldn’t compete, or I worried I had special needs too. There were times I was embarrassed, impatient, and insensitive. And there were times I'm so proud I could burst (like when he sang his heart out in choir, walked with his class at graduation, swam in Special Olympics). Sometimes Brian holds my hand or pats my shoulder when I’m sad. He brings our family closer by not saying much at all. He puts the petty in its place, because “love is all you need.”

I’m not sure how it’s all going to turn out, but there is no doubt that having a sibling with special needs has enriched my life in countless ways. I’m less selfish and less controlling (although, don't worry, I’ve still got plenty of that to go around), and I’m more thankful and empathetic.

I was given a most incredible gift by having a sibling with special needs. A gift wrapped in ribbons of unpredictability, taped with bittersweet moments, and stuffed with heavy doses of beauty.

I am a better version of myself, because of Brian.

This post was written in honor of World Down Syndrome Day. Learn more about Brian and connect with Katie, here.

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