I see a fierceness in people who have a sibling with special needs, in addition to a special love they share so willingly.
My daughter isn’t usually the subject of my articles because she has always been the easier child to raise. Her brother (17 months older) is on the spectrum, so our daughter has lived with Autism all her life. It feels unusual writing that because I’m reminded how much of an impact it has made on our family. Most people look at us and don’t think about that impact, but I think about it almost daily.
My son screamed all night when we first brought our daughter home from the hospital. Usually it’s the newborn that screams, but in this case, it was the toddler. Our life has always been a little backwards. It was only one night, but he screamed with a tone and vigor that indicated he understood he would have to share us from that point on.
Our daughter sat through his therapies longer than we want to remember. She came with me to every appointment, every session, and was on my lap or stuck to my hip in every doctor’s office. She’s seen it all—so this tribute is for her. She is one of the fiercest young women I know, and I’m certain she will influence the world in a magnificent way. I see this fierceness in all individuals who have a sibling with special needs, in addition to a special love they share so willingly.
I like to refer to my daughter as a mini ABA therapist. For families who receive home therapy services, siblings often experience the same things an Autistic learner does—they learn the same skills, are pushed farther than they might be ready for, and often participate in ABA sessions because sometimes they are the only examples for their Autistic siblings.
This was the case in our home. Our daughter learned everything we wanted our son to learn. She was often his example and lead. She became the therapist after each four-hour professional session. It was like we had a live-in, but she was only 3 or 4 years old. She developed incredible social skills and is his best friend in the world. She gives him whatever he needs because her love and commitment run that deep. She knows he needs her.
But our son has helped our daughter, too. She has Dyslexia, but words are like candy to my son’s brain. He began reading when he was 18 months old. He memorized every letter of the alphabet and many words. He had an amazing gift, which helped my daughter become interested in reading. She saw him excelling, which motivated her to work harder. She also learned from his musical skills, demonstrations of empathy and his commitment to following rules.
Our daughter has always known sacrifice, yet rarely complains. Every once in a while, she screams that we love her brother more. We remind her that we love them the same, but that sometimes it’s necessary that he get more attention. We explain that everyone is built uniquely and brains are wired uniquely. Every child has different needs at different times. She gets it.
My daughter is my hero as much as my son is. She will sacrifice more than any family member because she will live the longest with our son. When my husband and I pass on, she will be here (we hope) to guide him and love him. Our goal is that she won’t need to do much (or help at all), but we recognize that she will sacrifice the most for him. She is my hero because she forgives him and loves him unconditionally. Even though we’ve tried to shelter her from the hard stuff, the road hasn’t been easy for her.
Autism is a lifelong gift and challenge; we embrace all of it. Our son will be independent and live a full life—and he will be able to do it alone. But it sure helps knowing we’ve raised a daughter who is loving and generous enough to embrace her brother and support him in whatever small ways necessary. These are the siblings who should be our world leaders. I call them the most important siblings in the world.
Melanie K. Milicevic is a former teacher and passionate writer who lives in San Diego with her husband and two children. Photo provided by author.
This article won an award from San Diego Press Club! Melanie Milicevic won fourth place in the Essay/Commentary/Opinion category. See all of San Diego Family's awards HERE.