I’ve heard if you want to know how to treat someone with special needs, you should look at their siblings.
Stella is 2. When you’re 2 and have an older sibling that person is your idol. You act like them, eat like them, even talk like them. You do what they do and you never stop learning. Stella does this too, it’s just a little different in our house. She acts like Nolan, as she strips off her pants and jumps on the trampoline. She eats like Nolan, as in she asks for popcorn for breakfast and waffles for dinner. She talks like Nolan, as she takes his speech iPad and clicks “I want to swing” over and over using his speech assistive software. “Daddy I pushed I want to swing let’s go swing!”
But Stella has taken on a different role too, a role usually left to the older sibling. She is his caretaker. When I give her something like a treat, juice box, or even a winter hat, she makes sure Nolan has one too. She will wash Nolan’s back in the tub. She will pick him up off the sofa and demand to play ring around the Rosie (he hates every second) but she won’t waver because he MUST be included. He is the first person she asks about when she wakes up and she won’t go to bed without kissing “Noley boy.” She is his voice. “Daddy! Nolan wants to watch a movie with me.” She is his biggest fan, singing along to his drumming “Noley boy, bringing joy!” She keeps him out of trouble (sometimes). “Noley come down stairs it’s time to eat!” “Noley, not in your mouth.” She holds his hand as he walks through the locker room on the way to swim class (he’s terrified of hand driers). She loves Nolan every second of every day. She is beginning to understand he is different, and she couldn’t care less.
We always worry whether we are giving her enough attention. With much of our life revolving around Nolan and his therapy, Stella has had to mature much faster than your typical two-year old. We try to expose her to other neurotypical (NT) children so she gets some sense of normalcy. She has seen my wife and I exhaust ourselves in getting Nolan everything he needs to succeed. I pray she sees the love and patience we try to demonstrate with him (and her) and that it is embedded in her heart forever.
I’m jealous of the bond they have. There’s no one else in the world Nolan would hold hands with willingly, laugh at in the tub, or run up to in the living room and express that he wants to play chase. He doesn’t say it, but she knows and plays along. “I’m the beauty, he’s the beast!”
Nolan is in an integrated preschool program now. This program is offered by our public school and it is for 3 year olds with special needs kiddos paired with NT 3 year old mentors. Nolan has been learning so much from these peer models. While we were on the search for a 3 year old program for Stella to get her out with her peers, we asked about Stella possibly being a mentor student in the integrated preschool next year. We weren’t sure if she would be a good candidate because we weren’t sure if we were seeing her abilities with Nolan with bias eyes. Well, Stella was just chosen to be a mentor in next year’s class. They are excited and thing she will be as perfect at it as we do. Always accepting, always loving. A heart of absolute gold.
We could all learn a lot from Stella.
If you want to know how to treat our son, just watch our daughter.