Would You Change the Birth Order of Your Children? Typical vs. Special — 5 Minutes for Special Needs

Would You Change the Birth Order of Your Children? Typical vs. Special

by Gina


You First

We’ve had the conversation a number of times…well, long ago. It comes up every now and again, when we reflect on where we are and from where we came…where it all began. The question is one I pose to you. Because I wonder if another has thought of this, if it matters in the end…not that any of us can change a single thing but…

If you have more than one child, with at least one having special needs…do you think you would have been a better parent if your typical child came into your life before or after your child with special needs?

We were opposite, C and I. I thought our order worked for us. J is our eldest and our child with special needs. My thought was this -

Given what our journey is to be in our lives, it was good that J came first because we didn’t know any better, because we wouldn’t look at him through eyes of typical development. We wouldn’t push him past his capabilities or get frustrated because he is unable to. We would develop our ideals with him, as he developed his abilities. We would listen to our guides, therapists, doctors, and help J reach new goals. I believe in this still yet, part of me agrees with C.

C’s thoughts were that we would be able to diagnosis J faster, recognize the help he needed, recognize that J needed / needs help. We would have had the life of a typical family, for a time, to know that life, to understand that life…one we will never fully experience.

But, though I believe in part of C’s thought, the ability to recognize faster, I still hold firm to my initial thought, even 8 years later. J was our first, as he should have been. We recognized very quickly, 5 months earlier than a pediatrician was willing to confirm. We fought ferociously, still, and we may have been distracted with our ‘typical life’ if we had that first. Possibly our mourning would have been greater. Possibly…

How did birth order affect your family dynamics? Your understanding of life, development, special vs. typical? I’m curious…

Email Author    |    Website About Gina

Gina St. Aubin is a mother of 3, one diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, PDD-NOS, Sensory Processing Disorder, and Landau-Kleffner Syndrome (a rare epileptic disorder causing verbal aphasia) . A former Victim's Advocate turned advocate for those with intellectual and physical challenges, Gina believes being a 'Special Parent' means to discover, embrace, educate, advocate, encourage, treasure and laugh.

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1 Laurie August 30, 2011 at 11:26 am

We go back and forth with that too. We’ve got two special needs as our oldest, then two typicals as our younger set. With the adoption issues and attachment behaviors, we’re glad they were first because it would have been so hard on other kids in the family to experience what we had to. But in terms of some of the special needs that took us a while to discover and find help, I wish we’d had something to compare to. For one of our girls, an issue lingered a few years longer than it should have needed to. We would have caught it if we had something to compare to.

2 Gina August 30, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Yes it does seem to be a double edge….glad they didn’t have to ‘see’ and wishing we could have ‘seen’ sooner. I completely understand what you mean.

3 Awesome Mom August 30, 2011 at 11:36 am

I look at the struggles my sister in law is going through with having her youngest child in the hospital long term because of a birth defect and I am so glad I had my son first rather than last or in the middle. She is torn between the family at home and her very needy daughter. I was able to devote all my time to my son with the long stays in the hospital his first year. I also think that having my special needs child first really drove home the fast that each kid is so different and I should not have loads of expectations of them but to let them surprise me with who they are.

4 Gina August 30, 2011 at 3:15 pm

Being torn between two places and the duties of being completely there for each child must be a tremendous source of additional pain for your sister-in-law. I too think that having a special kiddo first does expand the thinking we may have all (unknowingly) had before parenthood.

5 Stephanie Barber August 30, 2011 at 12:53 pm

My youngest daughter (4) has a genetic disorder that has mildly affected her gross and fine motor skills and has significantly impacted her speech. For us, it has worked out well that she is the youngest. Her older sister (7) and brother (14) have been the world’s best therapists by playing with her and talking to her. She mimics everything the older kids do and say and it has helped her tremendously.

6 Gina August 30, 2011 at 3:16 pm

Good point Stephanie! I think much of J’s growth can be attributed to his younger siblings growth and interaction. I wonder if he would have pushed himself more if he had older siblings to ‘run’ after.

7 sarah August 31, 2011 at 8:04 am

My special needs son is the youngest of 4, and we have said many times this is so beneficial. Partly because he has older sibling role models and we as parents have more patience! I think somehow wherever your child fits in your family it seems to work by design. Interesting post.

8 Gina August 31, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Agreed. Thanks Sarah!

9 joee_t August 31, 2011 at 10:19 am

our special need kid is the oldest. for a lot of the reasons people have listed, i think it’s best we had him first.

the one thing where it would have been easier is that i find that my expectations are much higher for my first child. i’m new at it, and i’m hopeful. for example, i was devasted when nursing didn’t work for my first and i had to exclusively pump. but when my second came along, and nursing didn’t work out yet again, it was no big deal to pump for her and i got over it quickly.

so i wonder if my grief would have been more manageable if my special needs child came second, after my expectations for children and parenthood became more realistic?

it’s also hard to see my second surpass my first in language abilities. soon she may surpass him in other areas. if my special needs child was second, he would not have ever been expected to do better than his sister since he was younger anyway.

but these are little things compared to the bigger challenges we all face. interesting to think about.

10 Gina August 31, 2011 at 2:19 pm

For us, I think when the skills of the younger surpass that of the older, special kiddo, it just hits us like a wall. As if we were in denial until someone showed us a video proving otherwise. Not that we were / are in denial… just that it becomes so much more “in your face”. Thanks Joee_t

11 Tracy August 31, 2011 at 1:16 pm

My youngest is my special needs child and I guess it’s how I prefer it, but either way would present different challenges. The one that hurts the most, with having my two elder children first is that I know, all too well, at every stage, what life should be like, and how it isn’t.

But then I thought that since we had Mac first, and he had a challenge in life (auditory processing disorder which made his speech and language skills delayed – we didn’t get him dx and helped until he was 4!), we were helped by that fact when we were able to recognize early that Robbie had a delay and started speech by 20 months. We didn’t know then that Robbie has autism (and still doesn’t speak well or much), and not APD as far as we can tell even now. Mac’s problems with speech were mild in comparison and now he’s fine (graduating as a honor graduate from hs this year in fact), but Robbie’s future is still very unknown. Anyway, that’s a way that it did help to have Robbie as our third.

12 Gina August 31, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Sounds like it goes with my earlier comment of having it so “in your face”. I get that…it makes sense and it’s not an easy thing to digest every moment of every day. Thank you so much for sharing Tracy.

13 Ann Power Smith August 31, 2011 at 2:30 pm

I think I hit the jackpot on birth order if one is going to have a special needs child. Our MIDDLE CHILD has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). We have a 6.5 yo neurotypical (NT) son, a 4.5 yo daughter with an ASD, and a 3 yo NT daughter. We had the experience of NT development that led us to early intervention when our 2nd was only talking in mostly single word at 2yo. And, since then, she has been surrounded by close-in-age older and younger siblings which is so wonderful for building language and socialization skills! She wants to be a “big kid” like her older brother and he has learned to be very patient with talking to her (good for him too). And my two little girls are like two peas in a pod, they play together so well! At 3, little sister has no awareness of her sister’s disability and just adores her and wants to interact with her constantly, forcing her to develop her social and language skills further. And Grace (with ASD) is so comfortable chatting back and forth with her little sister…we will need to generalize those skills, but what a great and safe (anxiety-free) “practice ground” to build them up in! Further, because they are so close in age, Grace has been forced learn to share and cooperate, and also to stand up for herself (self-advocacy). I guess those things are built up by close siblings in any family, but ASD kids often seem to need (much) more work to build them. I have been thinking for some time that Grace’s close siblings, especially our youngest is “the best therapy we could never buy” for Grace! And I believe that having a sibling with a disability will make my other kids better people too.

14 Gina August 31, 2011 at 2:40 pm

I love your enthusiasm and seeing the most positive things within your family, how the interactions are bringing out the best in all your children. Thanks so much for this comment Ann!

15 Accidental Expert August 31, 2011 at 7:36 pm

Good question. Our special needs kids are right in the middle of 4. I am very glad we had our NT daughter first. We did get to experience a what “normal” (if there is such a thing) was first. Most importantly it gave us time to spend with her before things got very complicated.

That said, I was a much calmer mom to my youngest after raising my twins with special needs. Little things did not bother me, and I was able to use many of the tools we used with his siblings with him. Although he has to endure meltdowns and other things, he has the benefit of calmer, less neurotic parenting.

16 Gina September 1, 2011 at 11:30 pm

You make some great points. It sounds like the birth order in your family worked out perfectly. I do hope that one day I’ll look back and see the birth order of our kiddos as a good thing.

17 Judy September 1, 2011 at 2:18 pm

My kids are 27, 21, 15, and 14. The special needs kid/adult is 21. I believe is easier for my kids who came after the special needs child for two reasons, one is that is all they know. There are no latent memories of the good life before they came around. Secondly, they get more attention now, when they’re older because our special needs adult doesn’t need as much attention from us. Of course we’re also better equipped at dealing with him and keeping him busy while the others’ needs are met. While the older child just plain got derailed at 5 when his brother came along. \\

All of my kids are loving and respectful. They say they wouldn’t want a life without their brother. Maybe they’ll change their minds when they are older, who knows.

Not that they wouldn’t want him to be neurotypical if they could. Who wouldn’t want him to have all those things he wishes he had like, driving and going to college? But that is a different subject altogether.

We have to believe we do the best we can. It is true.

18 Gina September 1, 2011 at 11:33 pm

Thank you Judy. I try to remember my kids don’t know any different. That our oldest with special needs also doesn’t know any different.

19 Kareen Thornock September 7, 2011 at 11:01 am

My special-needs daughter is 10. She is our next-to-youngest child (so far), and has two older brothers, ages 21 and 18, and two older sisters, ages 14 and 12. Her younger sister is almost 6. I’m glad she is who she is, where she is. We have enjoyed experiencing so many things with all our children. Emma is unique in so many ways. Her younger sister is surpassing her in book learning. Her older siblings make their various impressions on her, and she is the unconditionally loving one, or the one closest to that ability. She’s not diagnosed, except for her vision (far-sighted, and outward-drifting eye, wears glasses when they’re not broken). She has been tested by the school district and found to qualify for help on the basis of her moderately low IQ and her speech (goes to speech therapy for an hour every week or two). She’s a bright star. She doesn’t fit any niches. She’s very strong.

20 Gina September 7, 2011 at 3:54 pm

Kareen…it sounds like your daughter is a perfect fit! So glad she’s surrounded by so much love and support.

21 Kristin September 7, 2011 at 3:05 pm

Great question. One I ponder often. My special needs child is 16 and her younger brother is 5. I think it would have been nicer for her to be the younger. There are times when what he can do has to be modified so his sister can join us. But its what he has always known so he knows no difference. I think if he was older he could look out for her (she’s in high school enough said) but I guess it happened as it should.

22 Gina September 7, 2011 at 3:55 pm

Kristin…I like that…”it happened as it should.” Thank you!

23 Bobbi Sheahan October 14, 2011 at 11:01 pm

What a great topic! We second-guess ourselves no matter what we do. I could argue all sides of this all day with the voices in my head. :D
One of the most beautiful things that my typically developing eldest daughter has ever said was, “Hopefully I’ll have a child with autism,” because she loves her sister so much and because she knows what it’s like.
Then again, I once asked my daughter with autism to “say something nice to her younger sister” after an argument, and she thought and thought and then said, “I wish I was an only child.” After we stopped laughing, I tried to tell her that I wanted her to say something nice to her sister, and she said, completely logically, “Being an only child WOULD be nice, mom.”
I love hearing others’ thoughts on this one. This is actually a concern that we share with the moms of typically developing children — did I do the right thing by having one/two/a dozen?

24 Gina October 15, 2011 at 11:25 pm

Hi Bobbi…thank you for sharing your daughter’s thoughts. How wonderfully insightful she is. Albeit opposite of what any of us would want to hear, what she’s saying makes sense for her.

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