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What It’s Like Living With a Special Needs Sibling

Note: This is based off my personal experiences and does not apply to everyone with special needs/special needs sibling(s).

My little sister was born with developmental and learning disabilities. They are not devastatingly severe or to the point that she is in a wheelchair or incapable of carrying out everyday activities, but they do effect her life, and the lives of those around her, in more ways than one. Although she is not officially diagnosed with anything and nobody is really sure what could be causing these issues, she is most often referred to as being on the autism spectrum. For those who may not be aware of exactly what autism is, it is defined as “a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences.” Autism Speaks, an autism awareness organization, has found research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which estimates that about 1 in 68 children in the United States are effected by autism.

A majority of the time when people, especially adults, find out that she is mentally disabled, I receive a plethora of sympathetic looks, followed by a lecture. This lecture typically includes them telling me about how I should not doubt her abilities because many people with mental disabilities are very intelligent and capable of just as many things as “regular people.”

Of course I know these things. I never doubted them for a second. My sister would be considered a high-functioning autistic because she is able to complete so many tasks and does not allow her disability to hold her back too much. She does require some special help at school, but other than that she is a very bright, charismatic child and lives her life just like “regular people.”

There are times she makes me happy, like when she is smiling so big and asking me questions about bugs and grass and snowboarding on the way home from school. There are days when she makes me angry, like when she just cannot stop screaming and having a meltdown every five minutes, and throws things and argues with everyone just to be defiant. There are days when she makes me sad, like when she tells me her best friend will not play with her anymore because she stares too much and asks too many questions. All of it comes with the disability, but her disability does not define her.

There are times when I forget that she is only acting this way because of her inability to correctly process her feelings and what she is experiencing, and I blame her for it. It is difficult to separate her disability from her at times because it has become such a major part of our daily routines. The way her personality can flip so easily from day-to-day makes it seem like I am living with two different people, but I am grateful for both.

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Hailey is a 16 year old from Dallas who is an editor on her school's yearbook staff, and a member of the academic decathlon team. When she has a moment to breathe, she enjoys binge-watching Netflix shows and eating way too much ice cream.

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