Will has three older siblings, all of whom have a disability. His sister, Heidi, has Down syndrome; and is brothers Barrett and Fritz have are on different ends of the autism spectrum. Will’s childhood was challenging in terms of how much attention he got at home growing up. At a conference he recently attended, he learned about “glass child syndrome”. “Our parents saw right through my needs to directly address the needs of my siblings,” Will said. Because of that, he has many opportunities to be independent and grow.
Sports Benefited the Whole Family
Will loved playing sports in his teenage years and is still an avid basketball player. His other favorite sport is biking. Barret, who has high-functioning autism, bikes everywhere with him. All three of his siblings participated in the Special Olympics growing up. Their love of sports bond these siblings together more than anything else. “It was not only a great opportunity to express myself, but it also empowers me and helps empower my siblings as well,” Will said.
Greatest Challenge to Overcome was Embarrassment
Looking back, Will believes he was quite sheltered. He didn’t realize his siblings were different than his friends’ siblings until he hit puberty. “It seemed my parents were embarrassed by the fact that I had to deal with all of this growing up, and they didn’t necessarily want me to share that part of my life,” Will said.
Will remembers many occasions where his dad would try to take the family on an outing like a normal family. Something would always happen that caused strangers to stare. “I tried to not associate myself with my family while we were in these circumstances,” Will said. He helped if asked. Otherwise, he walked behind his siblings in embarrassment.
Siblings with Disabilities Need the Right Environment to Succeed
“As I started getting older, I realized the importance of putting them into the right environment to succeed,” Will said. His mother was aware of this when his siblings were younger and Will believes that’s why his siblings have accomplished so much.
Fritz, who has low-functioning autism, and a very large man, requires special attention. After a lot of work, Will’s mom was able to get him housing in an assisted living facility where he is thriving. Heidi works in a sheltered workshop and is part of a dance program. Her boyfriend of five years has Down syndrome too. He is the light of her life. “Seeing the genuine love and affection they have for each other has had an impact on all of us,” Will said.
Barret has made tremendous strides in becoming more independent and learning how to take care of his physical health. A few years ago, he totaled his car while driving on the highway. His father did not think they should get him another car. His mother, however, believed Barret’s environment just needed to change. Barret saved up the money to buy himself another car and now he exclusively drives on the side roads.
When someone with special needs is in an environment that is tailored to them, they WILL succeed. Seeing someone with a disability thrive not only brings their parents a lot of joy, but it also brings their siblings joy.
Children with Disabilities Unintentionally Shape Their Sibling’s Life
Will took a psychology class in high school and he has always remembered a class discussion about modifying genes. The teacher asked the class that if they were going to have a baby with a disability and they could modify the gene to make their baby “normal,” would they do it? Will was the only one in the class who wouldn’t make that change. “It made me think about how people view disability in life, and it gave me a lot more perspective on the term of respect for how I was raised,” Will said.
Will is the first person to admit that his childhood was not easy but he has a greater understanding of special needs and it’s all because of his siblings.