In my last post, I featured the Nelsons and the miracles they have achieved so far with their daughter, Mackenzie. Now I want to share with you how our program affects the lives of the siblings of the children we work with.
We are always delighted when families come for their appointments with all of their children. Since the families and their children spend a minimum of one whole day with us this allows us to get to know all of the children. In fact, we often have everyone participate in the evaluation as a way to avoid singling out the child we are working with and to make it more fun for all.
The REACH Family Institute’s vision is for all children to be valued, compassionate and capable. The brothers and sisters of children on our program are great examples of this. Why, you might ask? How can they all have these characteristics in common?
[callout title=Compassion…]When handled correctly, having a brother or sister with difficulties can teach incredible lessons about life and love![/callout]
The main reason is because they grow up with well-developed and well-organized brains! Our parents learn about brain development and how to raise their children with the brain in mind. They learn that the way you speak with your children, how you play with them, the physical opportunities you give them and the love and attention they receive all has an impact on brain development and organization. They also learn to recognize any developmental issues early on and are able to address them right away. When parents raise their children with the brain in mind the results are astonishing! Children who have well-developed and well-organized brains are children who learn everything easily. They experience success in school and are not afraid to take risks. They are not afraid of failure! They are children with very high self-esteem!
Another quality that we always see in the siblings of our kids is compassion. The part of the brain responsible for compassion, the prefrontal cortex, begins to develop at birth. Charles wrote in a previous blog about the “mutual gaze” and it’s importance early in life for the development of compassion and empathy. Another important component of this is the modeling of parents. The siblings of the children we work with see their parent’s love in action by watching, and in most cases, being part of the work their parents put into the Home Program. A child who sees his or her parents loving, encouraging and working with their brother or sister who has difficulties learns that everyone should be respected and loved regardless of their level of function. They learn that their parents will always love them and respect them no matter what. When handled correctly, having a brother or sister with difficulties can teach incredible lessons about life and love! You bet these are children who grow up to be extremely compassionate and respectful of others!
Charlie and I have one daughter, Juliana, who grew up around children with developmental difficulties. Psychologists and teachers often questioned us about the potential negative effects of her spending so much time with “those children”. They should not have worried. She grew up to be the compassionate person she is today mostly because of the beautiful lessons of love and respect that she learned from those children and their families. For a wonderful testimony about this check out Chris de Vinck’s essay, The Power of the Powerless, in which he lovingly describes the impact on his life of being raised alongside his severely brain-injured brother.
And that brings me back full circle to the Nelsons. Desiray, Mackenzie’s mom, like so many moms who do our program, is in awe at the level of ability her younger child has achieved as a result of her applying what she learned working with Mackenzie. Elliana was toilet trained at 19 months of age, and has superb language, concentration and physical ability. What is even more amazing is that at the tender age of 2 years Elliana already makes sure Mackenzie is always included in what she is doing. Elliana says things like, “Mackenzie also wants cereal! ”, or “Mackenzie also wants to play!” Only two years old and already concerned that her sister not be excluded from anything! We have seen many hundreds of children like Elliana over the years and I never get tired of young children who are valued, compassionate and capable in action! Wouldn’t the world be a better place with more children like Elliana?