Having a sibling with special needs is a unique experience, and three teenagers from Palo Alto, California, made a powerful, honest video about it during an internship with the Magical Bridge Foundation. In the video, teens Kathleen Gaffney, Emma Villarreal, and Angelica Kolar each talk about their sisters who have special needs, share some of the ups and downs of being their siblings, and express their hopes for their sisters' futures.
Their goal in making the video and promoting the hashtag #MySisterMatters was this: "Rather than believing stereotypes about the disabled community, we hope our personal perspectives will help open your hearts and minds about how having a sister like ours really is "special."'
The video is tough to watch at times, especially when the mom of one of the girls with special needs talks about how devastated she was by the diagnosis while her child sits next to her—a moment that is a good reminder to all parents of kids with disabilities: your children are listening, don't talk about them like they are not there! I did, however, appreciate the lessons the teenagers hope this video will teach others. On their video's YouTube page, they offered these suggestions:
"It is natural to stare at things that are unusual and out of the ordinary," the teens wrote. "However, staring only creates an environment that is uncomfortable for everyone. If you are curious, please ask polite questions. Asking questions intrinsically acknowledges the presence of those with special needs, and makes everybody involved feel more welcome and accepted."
"Snide looks and muted laughter is commonplace for those with special needs," the YouTube page reads. "Their uncontrollable tics, irregular speech patterns, or lack of typical social skills make them the easiest of targets. Some people assume that those with disabilities cannot comprehend that they are being teased, and therefore conclude that their cruel behavior is victimless. They do not view their actions as bullying, but think they are being funny in a manner that will not offend anyone. However, it is clear that even those with severe special needs can grasp they are being laughed at. We ask that you ponder your actions, and consider the effect you have had on the lives of not only the people with special needs, but the siblings and companions who are always within earshot."
"There are undeniable hardships that accompany having a sibling with special needs, however there are also indisputable upsides that most people are blind to," the teens wrote. "Once people realize that we have a sibling with special needs, many inherently feel sympathetic. Unfortunately, their attempts to accommodate our feelings only put us in a more awkward situation as it bolsters the notion that people with special needs need us feeling sorry for them. Our sisters are so much more than their disabilities and deserve the respect given to any other person."
Respect, consideration, and acceptance: it's what all human beings deserve.