Several years ago after the death of my grandfather, my aunt moved in with my family. She's 45-years-old, deaf, intellectually delayed, OCD and my favorite person. As a kid, my favorite weekends were the ones where she'd visit us for a few nights, sleep on the futon in our bedroom, play games with us and take notes while watching movies. When she moved in, I was excited. We'd have Wendy around all the time and nothing could be better. And while this was definitely the case, there were plenty of huge changes that came from living with someone with special needs. Anyone who's been in a similar situation would agree that life with a disabled child or adult at home is completely exhausting, amazing and constantly unexpected.
These are just a few of the ways that life with Wendy changed the lives of my family and I; things I'm sure many other families like ours will relate to in a very real way.
1. I became infinitely more patient than ever before.
Answering the same question dozens of times and waiting 10 extra minutes to get in the car while your disabled aunt wanders around in the house and turns on and back off every light switch builds patience incredibly quickly. These examples are different for every person, but I'd guarantee that every caretaker of a disabled adult has developed immense patience living with someone who takes extra time to do just about everything.
2. My family built and moved into a new house.
When my aunt moved in, our house just wasn't equipped to take on an extra person, particularly an adult with disabilities. She stayed temporarily in our finished basement, but my parents soon decided to build a new home, and we moved the next year. Though this example certainly isn't universal, many families living with a disabled relative may have made similar large life changes to accommodate for the person they're caring for.
3. Making a commitment became equivalent to signing a binding contract.
When I tell my aunt I'll take her to the library today, I will be taking her to the library. If I don't, then I won't hear the end of it until the second we finally enter the library the next day. I learned very quickly never to tell Wendy we'd do something without knowing for sure if I could actually do it. She's the person I'd least want to disappoint, and the one who'd never let me live it down if I did.
4. I thought 10 times less about my own needs and 10 times more about hers.
Is that her calling me right now? She needs me to brush her hair? She needs help cutting up stickers? She needs a snack? Water? A hug?
These were my more common thoughts throughout a day at home with Wendy. Not only did she make constant requests and demands of me, but I wanted her to be happy and satisfied at all times, and concerned myself far more with that than whatever I had going on.
5. Our family dynamic shifted.
We went from a "normal" family with three children to a kooky three kid-two parent-one Wendy household (though my sister and I were only there half of the time, and spent the other half with our other parents). She's my aunt and my mom's sister, but in many ways, she's more like one of the kids -- and a much more high maintenance one at that. We suddenly used ASL more than ever before, spent portions of every dinner updating Wendy on the current topic of discussion and took weekly visits to the library to choose movies for her to watch. My parents' attention became more divided than ever before, though I was completely unbothered by it, knowing that my attention had also become more Wendy-centric. That's just what she expects.
We were still the same family, but the subtler things automatically shifted when Wendy came to be a permanent member of our house.