A week or so ago I watched this TED talk by Alicia Arenas titled Recognizing Glass Children. Found here . A talk exploring what It means to be a sibling of a child with special needs. I watched it from start to finish, initially intrigued by the term "glass children." A reference I had never heard before, and yes, I've been a special needs parent who has been around the block and is into a seasoned year five with our own journey. The reference to "glass children" is a concept rather that a typical sibling is seen through like glass - basically invisible really within the family unit due to the dynamic of a special needs family, a child who take a back seat so to speak.
This is how Alicia Arenas defines a Glass Child:
"Glass children are healthy children who
have brothers or sisters with special needs. They are typically
emotionally neglected, experience severe pressure to be problem-free and
perfect, take on parental responsibilities within the family at a young
age and have an overwhelming need to make others happy. All this while
receiving little nurturing and support in their development years."
certainly don't expect our typical child to be perfect,
self-sufficient, or take on our parental duties. In fact I think we're
inclined to appreciate all the little things that come along with a
child because we have another child that is so physically limited.
Some children naturally take on a caregiver role, especially within
larger families where the children to all tend to some degree help with
each other. That is not specific just to families who have special needs.
first reaction after watching the TED talk was really? After all the
hardships, after all I do in a day, how I hard I try to balance both of
my children's needs, and you are still going to tell me I am failing my
typical child because my first born has special needs? And you're going
to grow up and blame the parents? Isn't that lovely. Immediately I
had a twinge of instant guilt. You're telling me that what I am doing
isn't enough. I read between the lines; the implication I am
short-changing my typical child. My mind raced well how could that be?
Is it because Luke naturally wants to assume a care role in assisting
me with finding his older brother a diaper? Trying to feed him a
bottle? Or because we have to go to therapy on Thursdays instead of to
Without question a special needs family is
typically much busier than a traditional family. We are balancing
parenting with a primary caregiver role. Many of us have children who's
survival is dependent upon our care and lack traditional milestones and
independence that comes with each growing age. And yes I'll admit it.
Cerebral Palsy affects the entire family. All of us, right down to
the grandparents. It will forever alter how you do things, how you
plan, coordinate and even react to each other. But it does not
automatically mean that you are failing your typical child while tending
to the needs of your child with special needs.
assumption that if you have both a mixture of a typical and special
needs children within your family unit that somehow the typical children
are destined to get the shaft in someway... well I say hogwash to
that. Special needs parents are typically a nearly a super human
breed. I don't say that lightly or to brag. We can dance circles
around the hardest of days, with little sleep, with little complaining
and we have the ability to balance everyone's needs, sometimes minus our
I remember some of Noah's therapists approaching me
before Luke wasn't even a year old. Get Luke into group therapy as soon
as possible he'll need coping skills since he has a disabled brother...
make sure he has other typical peers for proper socialization... he
needs to be in pre-school immediately. Or better yet when they moved
onto evaluating Luke himself. "Nice pincher grasp, look at his hands
go to mid-line, or oh he's walking well for his age." With the
assumption that if you have one special needs child, then all of your
offspring must in some way have a condition or ailment of some kind.
Unsolicited advice on how to handle your typical child up against your
special needs child can be the most annoying move someone can make.
of children have grown up to blame their parents for shortcomings.
Rather than accepting accountability for their own actions, such as a
problem with drug abuse, poor social skills, not being able to
adequately hold down a job, have stable housing, or a life without
crime, they love to point the finger at the parent. It's your fault you
failed. So that blame the parents phenomenon is not new.
to say that your typical child is going to grow up and tell the world
they are holding a symbol of a broken childhood because they had a
special needs dynamic in their family? That's simply unfair to
automatically assume that all typical siblings are going to grow up and
feel their childhood drew the short end of the stick.
we don't have to go far to hear about inspirational stories of typical
and special needs siblings helping each other. Running races for each
other, being a champion to inspire change so a sibling they have can
play equally beside them. Now those are the stories that reflect our
family. We are not the family that fails either of our children. We
are the family that bans together. All four of us, to brave this journey
together. Each one of us coming out better because of it. Luke is
going to grow up and tell the world how inspirational his older brother
was, and I have no doubts it will drive the course of his life to help
others in a way he otherwise would not have been led.
reject the idea that Luke is a Glass Child. We recognize all of his
needs, we have adequate nurturing and support for both of our
children. And if you have to point the finger in my parenting
direction because I have two different able-bodied children, then maybe
you can say I didn't feed them enough sugar in childhood.
Noah's Miracle by Stacy Warden is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.