Laura’s mom was excited to announce to her other children that she was pregnant with twins, a boy and a girl. When the babies were born, it was a complete surprise to see the girl, Annie, had Down syndrome. Laura was eight-years-old at the time and little did she know, her whole life would be shaped because of her sibling with a disability.
The Start of a Lasting Friendship Between Siblings
One night Laura was feeling down about not having a close relationship with any of her siblings. Her mother gave her life-changing advice. “If you want to build a relationship with someone, then you need to spend time with them,” she said. Laura started spending more time with Annie by pushing her on the swings, playing on the monkey bars, and giving her piggy-back rides. Laura’s mother was thrilled because the activities she was doing with Annie were great muscle toning exercises.
In high school, Laura participated in a Best Buddies program for anyone with an intellectual or physical disability. This was another suggestion Laura’s mom made to her that helped shape her life. Annie would always tag along to activities and everyone knew who Annie was. Everybody loved being around her because “she has always been full of love and warmth”, Laura said.
Caring for Your Sibling with a Disability
When Devin and Laura started dating, he knew she had a special relationship with Annie. After getting engaged, Laura told Devin that he would have to be okay with Annie possibly living with them someday. Devin was completely on board since he had come to love Annie like a sister as well.
Annie ended up living with them a lot sooner than planned when Laura’s mom passed away from cancer. Nine months before she died, Annie’s twin brother also passed away from leukemia. Their deaths were really hard on Annie who was just starting middle school.
A few months before Laura’s mom passed away, she had regular conversations with Laura. She discussed the life she envisioned for Annie. She wanted Annie to graduate with her class, to live in a home with lots of love, maybe live on her own in a mother-in-law suite, go to college, get married, and the two of them run a preschool together. “It’s interesting because so many of the things that we talked about have come to fruition,” Laura said. Their mom had all these goals for Annie and she would make sure they happened. Those visions, inspire Laura to do the same now.
When it was time to take Annie and the other sisters in, it was an easy transition for everyone. They were all very close as a family who spent a lot of time together. Additionally, Laura and Devin didn’t have kids of their own yet so they had room for them.
Sister with Down Syndrome has a Positive Impact on Everyone
“Annie has always had an amazing relationship with our kids,” Laura said. They also call her the “baby whisperer” because she can get babies ready for bed and asleep so easily. Occasionally, Annie struggles to find her role in the household with Laura’s older boys. “Sometimes Annie is more of an authority figure…but it flows into almost a quasi-sibling relationship,” said Devin. Regardless of her role, Annie consistently spends one-on-one time with each of her nephews and niece.
“I can honestly say that my relationship with Annie…has really shaped much of my life,” Laura said. Her participation in Best Buddies was because of Annie. She also became a special ed teacher because of her sister. Even the area of law Devin practices is because of Annie and the struggles they had with the education system after becoming her guardian.
So far, Annie has lived with them for seven years. When people ask if Annie will live with them for the rest of her life, Laura always says, “We hope so.” Laura and Devin have come to love Annie as one of their own children. Annie is adamant about living with them until she gets married to which Laura says to her she better live close by.
Advice: Take What Life Gives You and Make the Best Out of It
Devin has a pretty laid back personality so it was easy for him to accept that Annie would live with them someday. For those who dread having a sibling with a disability coming to live with them, he tells them, “Figure it out as it goes. Personalities may be different and it will be a learning experience for everyone involved. But as time goes on, you WILL forge a stronger relationship. “Sometimes you just take what life gives you and make the best out of it.”
“My biggest advice is to pay attention to the similarities, not the differences because there really are more of those,” Laura said. Even if your sibling has a disability, you share similar genes and you grew up in the same household. If you search for shared interests, caring for a sibling with a disability becomes a lot easier.