The Way My Kids Defend Their Sister Makes My Heart Happy

Meagan Cheney avatar

by Meagan Cheney |

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One of my biggest fears in having a special needs child has always been how society would treat them. My husband and I both have aunts with special needs, and we know firsthand how cruel the world can be to people who don’t fit into the perfect dimensions society deems “normal.”

I’ve always wondered what I would do if someone ever teased or made my daughter Austen feel different. It’s my job as her parent to be her defender and love her enough to make up for what society may lack.

Austen, 6, was diagnosed with Dravet syndrome at 12 months old and autism at 4 years old. She presents differently than many people think she should. Instead of avoiding sensory stimulation, Austen seeks it. And instead of straying away from social situations, Austen is almost too social at times. She will hug anyone the first time she meets them and is not shy at all about trying to sit in someone’s lap. She doesn’t realize people have bubbles. It’s something we are working on, but progress is slow.

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Until now, we haven’t had many issues with people questioning Austen’s behavior. The comments we’ve received have mostly come from adults, but even then, they seem to come mostly from a place of pity rather than judgment. We haven’t had many issues with other kids commenting on Austen’s behaviors. They seemed to accept her, and I was grateful for that.

This week, we were at a local playground when the inevitable finally happened. I didn’t know about it until we were on our way home, though, because it turned out that Austen’s siblings had stepped in once again and taken care of it for me.

I’m not sure exactly how it happened, but from what I’ve gathered, Atlas, my 7-year-old, was playing with a couple boys on the playground, and Austen tried to join in on the fun. One of the little boys expressed to Atlas that he didn’t want Austen playing with them because she was “weird,” and that was that.

Atlas, my sweet, sweet boy and Austen’s self-proclaimed protector, did the most logical thing that came to his mind. He left the boys to walk across the playground and tell his older sister, Addi, who is 13.

Addi stomped over to the boys and apparently told them not to call her sister weird, but also explained to them the things that make her different. She explained autism the best she could, and said that Austen is learning how to interact with other kids appropriately.

I’m not sure what happened after that. Atlas says he and Austen went to play by themselves, and soon after I told them it was time to leave. This all happened as I sat on a bench across the playground. I was just excited that we were in an enclosed space (less chance of Austen eloping) and that she had finally learned how to check for a slide or ladder beneath her before dropping off a ledge.

Atlas told me the story when we arrived home. I hugged him and told him he had done just the right thing, though next time he might want to tell me instead of Addi.

I am so proud of both of my older children. They are protective of their sister, but at the same time, not quick to react when the situation turns negative. I’m proud that Atlas removed himself from the problem and told someone he thought could handle it. And I’m proud of the way Addi took charge to defend her sister, but also calmly educate two kids who might have never been around a kid like Austen before.

I know this will not be the only time we experience a negative reaction to Austen. This first occurrence was similar to ripping off a Band-Aid: It was quick, and now that it’s over, we can move on and heal.

Amazingly, the whole situation was worse for the rest of us than it was for Austen herself. Her older siblings jumped in and handled it without her even realizing something had happened. I am so grateful for the two amazing souls God gave me in Addi and Atlas. I imagine being the sibling of a special needs kid is harder on many levels than being the parent. These two handle it with the grace and grit of people who have decades more life experience. I know as long as they are around I don’t have to worry about Austen. They have it covered.

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Note: Dravet Syndrome News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Dravet Syndrome News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Dravet syndrome.

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