How does having siblings with Down syndrome affect the typical children in your home? How do your other children feel about having siblings with Down syndrome? What do they like? What do they dislike? Is it bad for them? Are they expected to take care of their siblings with Down syndrome when you’re gone?
I could honestly answer those questions in no time: my typical kids love their siblings with Down syndrome and wouldn’t be averse to having more around; they like having their silly siblings to play with, help, love on; they dislike their siblings with Down syndrome for the same reasons they dislike their siblings who don’t have Down syndrome but at a lower frequency; they want to take care of their siblings with Down syndrome when we are gone.
Those aren’t terribly satisfying answers, are they?
Instead, I asked each of my older children some of those questions. Here are the answers:
Luke: It isn’t the Down syndrome-ness about them that I like; I like them because of who they are.
Alex: You have to be really patient. You have fun everyday—it’s pretty much a mad house. But then, I can’t really even see it all the time [the Down syndrome apart from the child].
Song: It helps with patience. Sometimes it can be a little stressing when they don’t understand things and you’re needing them to do things. It seems like people with Down syndrome are really sweet. Have you ever met someone with Down syndrome who was really mean? [Luke, listening in the background: Yeah, Vera!] It doesn’t bother me to think of taking care of them someday. We’ve already kinda decided who gets each girl. Emma’s coming with me, of course. Vera wants to go with Alex. Ella wants to go with everybody, but maybe she could go with Dean.
Anna: For one, it takes patience but they’re still really fun to have around. Needy a lot of times but still, they’re sweet. They’re funny. I’m taking Ella. I worry about them getting lost in a public place. They just have interesting personalities: Vera’s sporty, Emma’s sassy, Ella’s…how do you describe Ella? [Jill: What benefit(s) do you see to having siblings with Down syndrome?] I’m not confused about people with special needs. When people say things about my sisters and their learning disabilities I can defend them.
There you have it: a few uncensored remarks from siblings in the Spicer family. Patience and fun seem to be the order of the day.
One difference in our family compared to some families of special needs kids is that our girls don’t have any real medical issues and aren’t terribly needy. I have to wonder if that helps the overall tenor of our home to remain positive and keeps the typical kids from feeling like their needs are overlooked. On the other hand, I know many families much larger than ours with several kids whose needs are severe, yet all the children thrive in their home. I’ve seen over and over again that life can be wonderful and full in many different circumstances.
We do try to have plenty of occasions for our typical children to do things without the Downsie girls and vice versa. I take each of the kids on dates every couple of months. John takes each child (who wants to go) on an overnight trip to his college alma mater’s football games in the fall. When possible, the older kids go on church trips. I think we would make this effort even if all eight of our children were typical.
I tend to think that one of the biggest benefits is having an ease around people with others types of special needs. I have seen this already in my children; they don’t react or shrink back. Some people never reach that level of comfort.
I will be interested to see how their relationships play out as adults. I have many friends in the Ds adoption world who decided to adopt as a result of having a sibling with Down syndrome—they loved their siblings. I have great faith that our children will also have nothing but love for their siblings, too!