I have three children, my oldest ("Ryan") is incredibly bright and graduating college in a month. My youngest ("Amy") has physical and mental disabilities with the mental age of about 4. When Ryan was home for Easter he talked to my husband and me and requested we get somebody to watch Amy at his college graduation. We said we would think about it and have been unable to make a decision. On one hand, Amy can be very difficult to handle in crowds and has a hard time empathizing with others and giving them the attention they might want or need. There are also only two tickets for handicap accessible seating, which means my family would not be able to sit together during the ceremony. Ryan was 6 when Amy was born and he has always been loving and compassionate toward her, so I think this stems from a desire to have this event be about him, not about all the logistics that surround a handicapped person. On the other hand, I am afraid that this will set a terrible precedent. What other events will Amy be excluded from, weddings, funerals, our 50th wedding anniversary party? How would we explain this to Amy, who is very sensitive? My husband and I would appreciate any guidance you have.**
There are two key elements contained within this letter: First, the complex feelings of a "healthy" sibling to a more complex-needs child; Second, the myth that attending a graduation ceremony is a good way to spend your time on a beautiful May afternoon.
The first is something that parents of disabled children need to take into consideration. A friend of mine just wrote her dissertation in Psychology on the siblings of disabled people. Her interviewees all shared the same sentiment of shock that anyone would choose to talk to them. "Wouldn't you rather talk to my sister? Or about her?" It is important to remember that those who can care for themselves sometimes need emotional care as well. That is not something that a single day of graduation can solve. That is something that all parents should do for each of their children.
Twins are the same way. Twins are often bundled together, and many of them like that bundled life. But they also need alone time where they can just be individuals. It is a shame that Ryan has had to wait 22 or more years to request alone time with his parents.
But Ryan, my dear poor Ryan. What a thing to request alone time for!! Graduation ceremonies are undoubtedly THE WORST. Most readers of this blog have sat through dozens of them and spent them all daydreaming about torturing the speaker to death. They are formulaic, pompous, and empty. The music is terrible. There is often the singing of a school song that no one ever hears until the day they graduate. The speeches usually feature empty sentiments about the prospects of this bright young group of people in BLAH BLAH BLAH I can't even write a parody of these without falling asleep at my computer. The highlight is 90 minutes of people marching awkwardly across the stage. The whole point is to watch people stand in line. Just scratch my eyeballs out RIGHT NOW.
Listen, Concerned Mom. You are doing Amy a favor by taking her anywhere but there. Explain to her that graduation ceremonies are terrible events designed to suck the life out of you. Then tell her that she gets to go out with grandma (or whoever) for the day. Let's go to the Zoo! Or a museum! Or on a boat. It will be a treat. Ryan gets his (boring) day. Amy gets a better consolation prize. Everybody wins.
But then, later, take the graduate out for a real day out. Do something more fun than sitting in a huge gym listening to the Vice President of Comcast talk about how inspiring her career is to people holding nothing but a BA in religious studies and philosophy. Just because Amy needs more attention and supervision that Ryan does not mean that Ryan doesn't need attention at all. And just because you give Ryan some attention during his graduation is no reason to assume that you can never allow Amy to go to any other family event. Excluding her from weddings and funerals is just your way of justifying your desire to place Amy above Ryan in every single way. Stop.
(**If you were wondering: source )