A letter to my brothers who struggle with special needs
Growing up, our family are the people we’re closest to, but sometimes they are also the cause of our greatest heartaches.
Middle child Daniel* (19) tell us about his struggles in learning how to love his brothers, both of whom have special needs.
His older brother (22), Ge, was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of Autism Spectrum Disorder, while his younger brother (13), Di, has symptoms of Asperger’s and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
In being the odd one out, Daniel has realised over the years that — with or without special needs — each one of them is deeply loved by God. And it is this love that challenges him to choose to love every day the way Jesus did.
Dear Ge and Di,
I love you both very much, but every time you guys clash, I just want to leave the room. Something must have happened again.
Sometimes it’s easy. When the days are good, we are a happy family. We laugh, play games and head out together. These memories make me smile.
Other times, it’s rough. Watching you guys fight — with each other, mum and dad, or me — makes me wonder where is God in all of this.
The flipped chairs and angry screams stemming from seemingly insignificant arguments over a board game rule or a kitchen utensil are just reminders that you guys aren’t like other brothers I know.
I WAS SO ANGRY ON THE INSIDE
Ge, when you were diagnosed with high-functioning autism seven years ago, I still recall not accepting the fact that you were different.
Over time I realised that it meant you struggled with reading peoples’ emotions, and that the way you process information or relationships is so vastly different from others.
I was so frustrated as a child. I kept thinking: Why didn’t you care about me? I couldn’t understand your lack of regard for me.
Part of me found it so hard to love you, so sometimes I didn’t.
Your fixation towards the way things should be done in a certain way soured our relationship, and the message I got from a lot of your actions was that you didn’t love me.
Part of me understood that your diagnosis was the reason why we fought so much as children. But part of me found it so hard to love you, so sometimes I didn’t.
Holding onto the past, the grudges and the pain made me a bitter person. However, as time went by, God gently nudged me back on the right path.
He sent loving friends to remind me of my identity in Christ and what it entails. Bitterness was not one of them.
FINALLY FINDING FREEDOM
It took a while, but slowly God showed me how to love again. Out of that love came forgiveness and freedom.
During this time, this passage from Colossians 3:12-14 anchored my faith.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
It was a constant reminder for me that it is my calling, not just as a brother but as a Christian, to love you as He does. Even when it got tiring, God was telling me to rely on His strength and not my own.
The years after I forgave you were still difficult, but I felt a change inside me that helped me to love you better.
Whenever it became hard to love, God reminded me that love begins at home with the people closest to me. He gave me the strength to look beyond the situation and to not give up on you.
Change came when you shared with us about your struggles. I finally saw the challenges you were going through in a different light.
It was comforting knowing that you were trying your best. The fact that I would never truly understand what it is like to battle these problems also helped me to overcome the anger that I had bottled up inside.
You have grown tremendously in patience and in expressing love over the years, and I am so proud of you.
Even the little things that you do now, such as asking if we’re feeling okay and joining me in facing Di’s challenges, show me that you are trying your best.
WHEN I THOUGHT IT WAS OVER
Di, it was much harder to accept when we learnt this year that you had hyperfixation, one of the symptoms of ADHD.
To think that not one but both of my brothers struggle with different kinds of special needs made me question God once again.
Why, God? I have already struggled so much over the last few years, and now it will only get even harder. How long, God?
As I grappled with this development, I had to adjust my mindset all over again. Sandwiched between you and Ge, I frequently feel like I am the one going the extra mile and giving in the most.
Di, I often thought you were just disobedient and rebellious. I faced many challenges trying to help you accomplish simple things like showering or setting the table for meals.
But I now understand that you could not start and end tasks properly, and that you struggled with zooming out of an interesting activity once you got started.
The clashes, the meltdowns and the sleepless nights made me hate staying at home. But after a while, I saw that that was your way of crying for help because you couldn’t express what you were feeling.
WE WILL GET THROUGH THIS
I prayed, listened and learned to love you differently. God was with me, teaching me how to love you.
When it looked like you were antagonistic towards me, I chose not to fight back and to extend grace instead. When you kept leaving our room in a mess, I chose to quietly pick things up instead.
I know it is not easy for you. You are so strong, and I know that with God we will make it through.
Of course it’s easy to love perfect siblings — ones who never get angry and ones who easily express their love. But I’ve realised that when things get hard, that is where true love lives.
He is not only shaping me into the person He wants me to be, but also shaping you as well.
Ge and Di, just as how God loved me in my lowest points in life, I am called to love the both of you who are struggling with things beyond your control.
I believe God has been with us throughout our lives, and that He is not only shaping me into the person He wants me to be, but also shaping you as well.
Thank you for teaching me how to love,
Your brother Daniel
*Daniel has requested to use a pseudonym for confidentiality.
THINK + TALK
- Who are you finding it difficult to love?
- How can you seek to understand him or her better?
- What does it mean to love the way Jesus did?