One of the biggest questions about having a child with Down syndrome is how it will affect the other children in the family. Many people assume that any child saddled with a sibling with Down syndrome will be negatively impacted: that they will be resentful and feel burdened.
Following are some questions I posed to Kevin, age 14, Finn’s oldest brother. While I can only offer a snapshot of my own family, I suspect that what Kevin has to say is closer to the truth for most families than a lot of people realize.
Me: I remember when Finn was a newborn and he was in the hospital recovering from surgery, and we told you that he had Down syndrome. Did you have any understanding of what that meant before Dad and I talked to you about it? Do you remember what your initial thoughts and feelings were, finding out that your new baby brother had Down syndrome?
Kevin: I do remember what my thoughts and feelings were. I had heard of Down Syndrome before, but was not entirely sure what is was. I was not sad or disappointed to hear the news – I was mostly curious.
Me: What kinds of things have you noticed about Finn that seem different to you than other kids his age – even your own brothers and sisters who came before him? Do his differences ever bother you (it’s okay to be honest)?
Kevin: I have noticed that he does EVERYTHING that everyone else did!!! He just gets around to it slower. It’s like watching my other siblings grow up, but in slow motion. His differences don’t matter to me, I see nothing wrong with Finn. Different isn’t bad, it’s just different. We are all different already anyway!!!
Me: You have taken on the role of advocate for Finn all by yourself (and I hope you know how very proud Dad and I are of you). Why is that? Do you feel pressure to stick up for Finn? Do you worry about Finn?
Kevin: I like to advocate for Finn because I think it is wrong to discriminate against people with disabilities. I don’t like it when people discriminate against any group, which is why I advocate. I don’t really worry or feel pressure, but I would like Finn to know that I will always be there for him.
Me: Has having Finn for a brother affected how you view other people with differences of all kinds?
Kevin: Yes, it has! I already had learned to accept differences, but having Finn for a brother has encouraged me to not only accept, but to understand. Before I had Finn for a brother, I knew next to nothing about people with disabilities. I dared not ask my friend what was “wrong” with her brother, and why he was in a wheelchair, incapable of speaking. However, now I feel very educated on the differences people can have, and most important – that the differences should make no difference!!!
Me: If you could tell another kid who has a new sibling with Down syndrome something, what would it be?
Kevin: Don’t worry – he’s different, but he’s not THAT different!!!
Me: What would you like to tell the world about your brother and about Down syndrome?
Kevin: People with ANY disability are human beings too!!! Why would anybody treat them differently? I want everyone to know that we are all different from one another, so why does it matter if some guy has Down syndrome? I would like everybody to be treated equal to the person next to them, and for everybody to have compassion.