On Friday we had a moment to meet Dr. Brian Skotko at the Best Practices in the Education of Children with Down Syndrome Conference at LIU at CWPost in Brookville, LI. I have written on the outstanding advocacy work done for our children by Dr. Skotko, and Friday my older daughters and I attended his talk "Brothers and Sisters;Questions and Answers" in which he shares the fascinating perspective of the siblings of children with Down syndrome, from his many workshops. Since I had to work Saturday, and miss the sibling workshop he gave at the Conference, my girls and I were pleased to hear his summary of the questions and answers.
The questions ranged from the simple and straightforward, "Does it take her longer to learn things?" to the heartbreaking, "Why doesn't my brother have any friends?".
Dr. Skotko is an engaging speaker who involved the audience and spoke humorously about his personal experiences overprotecting his little sister Kristen with Down syndrome.
He discussed the technique of reflecting the question back to your child to clarify the question within a question, as in, "What do you mean when you said 'will she be different?' and the affirmation, "that's an excellent question" to put their fears of offending mom to rest. Fears and negative feelings should be aired to help siblings deal with the situations their encounter and the emotions they evoke. The parent can empathize with the sibling as in "I feel embarrassed when she throws tantrums in public too", to validate the child's emotions.
Dr. Skotko has an upcoming talk at the NDSC Conference in Boston, and I hope to see him again there. He's a wonderful advocate for children with Down syndrome, and it was an honor to have met him.
My girls were enthusiastic about the presentation, however, they admitted it contained few surprises. Down syndrome's effect on Christina is a frequent topic at the Velasquez home, and they gave me a good mark for fielding their questions. I mark it up to homeschooling. First of all, they get to observe Christina and her therapies closely, second we are all so close and discussion goes on all day.
The most striking part of the talk, however, is it's beginning. Dr. Skotko quoted the latest research on how siblings are affected by Down syndrome, and the data is encouraging. There is more positive interaction (kindness,less conflict) in families with a child with DS, the siblings are less prone to behavioral problems, and through more care giving, they have increased levels of empathy.
Now it's mom's turn not to be surprised. I have already seen these effects in Gabbi and Bella. The call to special motherhood is also a family vocation, a call to extra love, which Our Lord so gladly gives to families with special siblings. Anyone who thinks it's 'unfair' to give birth to a child with Down syndrome needs to know this: it will ultimately bring out the best in your other children. It won't be easy, but worthwhile things are seldom easy.
Christina is a blessing to our entire family, and has made us more the people Jesus calls us to be.