The Power of Siblings

EPSON MFP image
Ashlea and Geordie in Rotorua NZ (2010)

I’ve undertaken a major clean out of my study over the last couple of weeks. It has taken that long, not because my study is huge but because it’s been a while — quite a while. As Geordie put it, in his characteristic ‘say it as it is’ way: “Have you ever tidied up or dusted in here?”

One of the last things I rediscovered was a pile of photos I’d long ago intended to frame and display; constructing what a friend of mine terms as ‘a wall of shame’ — photos of the kids from all stages of their lives.

This particular photo really resonated with me because it absolutely captures the relationship Geordie has with his sister.

I often wonder what Geordie would have been like if he’d been the oldest — or only — without his big sister to guide him. I suspect he still would have made brilliant progress, making us proud every day, but I’m under no illusions that some things may well have been quite different.

Ashlea is only two years older than Geordie but she’s always taken him under her wing, watched out for him, calmed him, inspired him, motivated him and looked after him.

How?

♥ She’s pulled him out of  meltdowns

For a short while, Ashlea was the only one who could do this. I don’t know how but if she came into the room and sat with him, he instantly calmed down.

♥ She gives him the courage to try something that overwhelms him

Whether it’s been getting him onto a ferry, into a crowded room, back into class at school … Ashlea occasionally has the power to make Geordie feel it’s all going to be okay.

♥ She awakens his creativity

The games they’ve played together over the years have been creative, imaginative and sometimes downright hilarious. At first, he could only play like this with Ashlea but gradually he came to introduce his own ideas and initiate the games himself (and by himself). These days, the ‘games’ have turned into series of side-splitting iMovies — holidays or special events are not complete without at least one being made. (And Geordie now also does these with his best mate — one day, his mother and I will be walking the red carpet!)

♥ She teaches him

Ashlea taught Geordie the alphabet, and then how to read, using foam bath letters! She encouraged him to write and draw and to ride a bike. Many of his skills he has learned from her — either directly or by watching her and wanting to be like her.

♥ She keeps an eye out for him

Ashlea used to watch Geordie like a hawk at school. She’d check up on him and go to his teacher’s assistance if needed. One time, he’d managed to escape to the other side of the school fence with a friend during class — Ashlea was the one who noticed, alerted the staff and then coaxed him back in. She included him when her friends came around — and gently counselled them if they dared to make fun of him or exclude him. These days, ‘keeping an eye out for him’ sounds more like bossing and nagging — but I’m sure her heart’s in the right place.

 ♥ She accepts him for who he is

This is the most important, and something I see time and again with kids who have siblings with special needs.  I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times Ashlea has complained about her brother receiving special treatment. She’s not embarrassed by him, and she doesn’t try to change him.

Many of these aspects are common among all siblings — regardless of age, sex or need — however, for the parent of a child with special needs, the relationship the child has with his siblings can sometimes be the saviour.

As parents, we don’t want to be overdoing the ‘carer’ factor, but allowing siblings to take care of each other to a certain extent has to be beneficial for everyone.

For me, it’s allowed me the time to take a back seat for my own wellbeing. It’s also afforded me the opportunity to learn.

For Geordie, it’s helped him develop into the person he is today — creative, self-assured and more willing to experience new things and work through those that are overwhelming.

And for Ashlea — I think it’s made her a more resilient, confident and tolerant person. She was always going to be like this, but her relationship with Geordie has, I believe, strengthened these traits. She’s an amazing kid!

Power to sibling relationships 

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