Tag Archives: special needs siblings

The Journey: My Deepest Regret

aidan portland zoo

“I always felt like I was the older brother.”

“I knew I couldn’t count on you.”

“You met my physical needs but that was it.”

These are things I’ve heard over the past few months from my younger son, the one who doesn’t have a developmental disability. He turned twenty this month, and we’ve had some difficult discussions about him growing up with a special needs sibling and a full-time single parent. Prior to hearing these words, I hoped I hadn’t done as badly as I feared. I had hoped he would be okay, that he wouldn’t resent me for the areas where I had failed him.

I was wrong. I honestly did the best I could with the limited support I had. But I should have tried harder.


I’ve heard from different sources (including a seminar I recently attended) that kids who have special needs siblings either overachieve to compensate or underachieve as perhaps a subconscious way to get their own needs met. And for those in the latter group, the worst time is supposed to be after age 18, as they’re entering adulthood. Their development seems to be in a holding pattern; they are stymied, directionless, depressed. Many of their needs weren’t met while growing up, and it affects them, more than most people realize. More than I realized.

Yes, many children have far worse childhoods, some full of abuse and trauma.  So, no, having a special needs sibling isn’t the worst that could have happened to my son. But he has a right to feel the way he does, to view the whole experience the way he did, and the need to be validated for it.

The special needs sibling? His needs were met twofold, as evidenced by how well he’s doing in adulthood (with daily support). But what about the sibling without the disability? Weren’t his needs just as special? Just as crucial to be met?


He’s twenty, and I’m just now teaching him to drive. For whatever reason he said he didn’t want to when he was younger. But the sad truth is this: I was then, as always, preoccupied with meeting his brother’s needs. So he’s ready to learn to drive now. He needs to. And this is a need of his I can fulfill.

So help me, every day I will look for more.

[Image: Aidan, age three, at the Portland zoo] 

The Unprodigal Son

IMG_0962bI was told once, many years ago, that someday he would break my heart. And two years ago, when he moved 700 miles away to live with his father, it was assumed that the person who’d said that was right. Of course I missed him unceasingly, had this relentless longing for my sweet, easy boy (even though he was the most difficult child to feed), but instead of letting fear get in the way, I let him go with love and unending support to do what he needed to do. And that boy, the one who was predicted to break my heart, has done nothing all his life but mend it.


Aidan is seventeen today, and we are going out to dinner to celebrate. He moved back to southern Oregon two months ago, said “the city” (what he calls Los Angeles) was fun for visits, but he was tired of living there. Next week we register him at the local high school where all of his friends from middle school have gone. They, along with Aidan, have two years left. It’s been so enjoyable to watch him get back in touch with everyone, social person that he is. He’s reestablishing his identity here.

And he has been reestablishing his relationship with me as well. He’s never been more open with me as he is now. There is an ease about him, a level of confidence, of generosity. He healed one wound and now that we, for once in our lives, have some one-on-one time, he is perhaps healing another. I can’t imagine how it was for him, all his life, living in Nigel’s shadow, getting only a fraction, a sliver, of time that other siblings could reasonably expect from other single parents. And now, he has me. Like the Biblical father, I couldn’t be happier about his return.


I sit at my desk, slumped over spreadsheets, and sigh. Aidan walks in behind me, talking about his video game du jour, sees the state I’m in, and immediately puts his arms around me and kisses my head. “You okay, Mom?” It’s all I can do not to cry as I realize what a gift Aidan is to me. I had grown so used to Nigel never soliciting hugs and stiffly tolerating them when I, desperate for contact, would reach out to him. And I know he couldn’t help it and he did the best he could, and still does. I love my boys equally, always have. But the inescapable truth is that whether Aidan has anything to heal in himself or not, whether he knows it or not, he is healing me.