Our family had the privilege of speaking at the "Together We Care" conference in Atlanta, Georgia. The conference presents ideas to help equip ministries to better serve the neurodiverse population.
Ben's brother Dan was asked to present from the perspective of a sibling of a special needs child and titled his session: "The Other 99 Sheep". This is in reference to the parable told by Jesus about a shepherd having 100 sheep but if one is lost, the shepherd will leave the 99 and go in search of the one. The point is, the shepherd loves all the sheep equally, but some sheep need more attention than others, and this really resonated with Dan.
We asked if we could sit in on Dan's session and went with a little fear and trepidation of what we might learn about ourselves or how we measured up as parents. We were so glad we attended!
One thing that I had not heard from Dan before was how he did not like it when Ben "borrowed his hobbies". Dan loved to go to camp so Ben wanted to go to camp. Dan wanted to go rock climbing so Ben wanted to go rock climbing.
Ben often struggles with how to fill his free time so he tends to look around at what others are doing and just try to say that those are things he likes as well. A great example is Dan is very skilled in rock climbing and has competed in some local tournaments as well as bouldering in nature. Ben decided that he would like to rock climb as well and Dan graciously took him to the gym.
To say that Ben did not enjoy it is an understatement. When Dan asked him if he wanted to try another climb Ben's response was
"I can't - my bones are sweaty!"
It was also important that Dan had areas in his life where he was not "Ben's brother" but just known for who he was and the things he enjoyed. He shared that he experienced guilt at having these feelings of wanting hobbies that he did not have to share. Dan found real freedom when he went away to college because no one ever asked:
"Are you Ben's brother?"
We continue to work on Ben making choices that are things he really cares about or wants to pursue and protect the things that are not in his wheel house but he just does to try to participate.
Another area that was eye opening for us was that Dan did not feel he could tell us so of the things that were bothering him growing up. Neurotypical siblings have their own gifts, strengths and struggles. Dan shared that he often felt that his problems were too small to acknowledge as he saw the daunting task of raising Ben. He felt his problems were just not big enough to "trouble us with" and kept them to himself. It makes me sad to think that he felt that way but even more that he never expressed it to us until he was an adult.
Just a word of encouragement to those in the trenches of those formative years to give all of your children the opportunity for open and honest communication.
Love you more...