This story may hit close to home for many people. Most people’s lives have been touched by someone with special needs. You may have a child who has special needs. You may have worked with the population or you could have a sibling with developmental disabilities. Whatever the case, you know how diverse the population can be.
The special needs community typically empathizes with fellow special needs families. They hold each other up, help when they can, and know how difficult everyday tasks can be. But there are and should always be boundaries. And, when these boundaries get crossed, a mama bear is going to protect her child.
Recently, one mother second-guessed herself and asked Reddit if she was in the wrong for telling another special needs mom that her daughter isn’t responsible for her child. The responses to her question got somewhat muddled in the comment section. Let’s break it down.
A Review Of The Situation
A mom, let’s call her Rachel, came to Reddit with a query.
Rachel has two children. Her younger child (David, 7) is on the autism spectrum, and her older child (Maria, 14) sometimes takes on somewhat of an informal caretaking role for her younger brother. Rachel explained that she tries to ensure Maria doesn’t take on so much responsibility that she loses out on living her own life, but this doesn’t always happen.
“Sometimes Maria does have to step up when I and my husband fail,” Rachel wrote. “But, I always make sure to make it up to her and reward her for the time she helps us out like I would a normally paid caretaker.”
This summer, Rachel enrolled Maria in an art camp. According to Rachel, Maria has been looking forward to it for months until she actually attended the camp, when her attitude quickly changed. Rachel says Maria was essentially “assigned” to watch over a little girl called “Helen” who happens to be on the autism spectrum. According to Rachel, Maria spent most of her time at camp helping Helen with projects, sometimes to the point that she couldn’t work on any of her own projects the entire day.
When Rachel found out about the situation, she immediately contacted the camp and demanded her money back. As she was talking to the camp directors, they said that Helen’s mother claimed they were close friends and had asked for this arrangement. Neither Helen’s mother nor the camp had confirmed with Rachel this arrangement would be OK.
After that conversation, Rachel contacted Helen’s mom to have a conversation. Rachel says she “went off” at Helen’s mom asking why she felt it was okay to ruin Maria’s time at camp. Helen’s mom stated her daughter wanted to do the art program but was afraid she couldn’t do it alone. Given she knew Maria had experience with special needs kids and that Helen felt comfortable around her, she thought it would be ok.
Rachel states, “She then yelled at me, called me a heartless a**hole, and said that I should know where she was coming from.”
After the conversation with Helen’s mom, Rachel spoke to her husband about the ordeal. He maintains that they should only take it up with the camp and shouldn’t have contacted Helen’s mom directly. In the end, Rachel pulled Maria from the camp and decided to hire a private tutor for lessons since she missed out on the camp.
Who Is In The Wrong?
The comments were mostly supportive of the fact that Rachel was not the a**hole in the art camp situation. The commenters agreed that Maria shouldn’t have to take care of another child.
One of the top commenters, however, pointed out one of Maria’s own comments, taking issue with it. “‘Maria does have to step up when I and my husband fail.’ Do better. Because I guarantee the biggest reason she’s disappointed she couldn’t do the art program is that she needed a break from parenting her brother, and didn’t get one. I get that you compensate her, but time is a finite resource she isn’t going to get back.”
Many commenters replied to this top comment in support of Rachel, however. “There are definitely limits, but siblings helping out with other siblings or doing other household duties is just something that happens sometimes as part of keeping a household running. This is something that has occurred all throughout human history in pretty much every society because it’s the norm for our species.”
We agree that the situation at the art camp could (and should) have been handled much differently. If Helen needed an aide or helper, her mother should have made arrangements with someone she hired. Expecting another child to take on such a large responsibility is at the very least irresponsible. We hope the camp and Helen’s mother have learned something from the experience.