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Jewish World Review March 7, 2002/ 23 Adar 5762

Disabled child taught family love,
patience and compassion

By Wendy Belzberg | In my December 27 column, I printed a letter from the mother of a newborn son with Down syndrome. Her parents and her in-laws were pressuring her to place the baby in a facility for children with special needs. I asked her if her in-laws would make a similar recommendation if one of her other children developed multiple sclerosis or started going blind, and I wrote that I would choose her son any day - with all the love he had to offer - over parents or in-laws who appeared to prefer form to substance.

My response came from my head and an intuitive sense of right and wrong. I like to think that I would have the strength of my convictions. The following letter comes straight from the heart, from a family that demonstrated the strength of theirs.

Hats off to you for your advice to the mother with a brand-new Down syndrome baby.

I have a brother who, until he was 3 years old, appeared to be developing normally; at that point it became clear that there was something unusual about his speech. He was able to say words, even long impressive ones, but he did not use them to convey meaning. During his childhood, my parents were shuffled from one psychiatrist or psychologist to another. They were told at various times to "put him away and try again."

My parents persisted until, when my brother was about 12, they found the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential in Philadelphia. This group realized that my brother had suffered a brain injury and recommended "patterning." Patterning involved moving my brother's limbs and head on a table as if he were crawling for five minutes, four times a day. Five people were required for each session. Everyone helped: neighbors, relatives, girlfriends, women from the synagogue, a family who heard about us through their church and even a Girl Scout troop. After a few weeks my brother's speech improved dramatically, and he began to read.

My brother is now 47. He is still developmentally disabled, although much less so. He lives with my mother and performs work that appears to challenge and satisfy him. He is kind and loving.... My parents provided my brother with a rich childhood. He was loved for who he was and never expected to do anything more than his best.

But this has only been his story. I have said nothing yet about the way he profoundly affected the rest of us.

My father once commented that a brain-injured child would affect a marriage in one of two ways: The stress would break the marriage apart or make it rock-solid. My parents gained a strengthened commitment to each other. They were blessed with a very happy marriage for 34 years, until my father passed away.

As a direct result of my brother, my father, who was an attorney, became politically and legally active in causes related to developmentally disabled children; he was instrumental in getting legislation passed requiring special education.

Whether my mother always had the strength she has or developed it as a result of my brother, I cannot say.

Certainly, G-d was very wise in selecting her to care for my brother, but the rewards have not been his alone. I believe my brother helps keep my mother young. Now in her 70s, my mother works in the computer field, traveling 55 miles each way to work every day. She still delights in every one of my brother's incremental accomplishments. She is always telling me of the many little things he does every day to help her.

I could not have asked for a better brother. As a very young child, I learned patience, empathy and compassion.

These are gifts that have carried through my personal and professional life. I learned that love does not depend on what you can do, but how you do what you can.

My daughter, who is 4, has a special relationship with her uncle. I wondered when she would notice that there was something different about him. Just a few days ago, she told me that he would be unable to say something because he speaks a "quiet language." It appears it is never too early to develop understanding and compassion....

To the woman who wrote to you and to her husband, G-d has not chosen you for misfortune. He has chosen two people He knows have the strength and love to care for His very special child. Accept His trust and this child, this gift, will enrich you and everyone around you in ways you cannot imagine.

  —   Lucky sister in NYC

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07/07/00: Hypocrites, reality checks, and the 'real estate challenged'


© 2002, Wendy Belzberg