“I get more support from strangers than my own family!”
“My own family doesn’t even try to relate to him.”
“Why don’t they care?”
Everyday I read posts on special needs sites similar to the ones above. Most people probably believe that if there’s a special needs individual in the family that the family rallies around them. That’s not always the case. I’ve seen arguments against planned communities for the disabled stating that families should take care of their own. Yes, they should. More often than not though, they simply don’t.
Ever since our 20 year-old son was diagnosed with autism, my husband and I have been very involved in the special needs community. We were active in the Autism Society for a number of years before starting our own nonprofit, Good Works Farm. Every summer since 2015, we have held a week-long day camp for special needs campers and their typical siblings. It takes us months of planning and a fleet of volunteers to provide a farm-based educational camp for 37 campers. Our two older children have never helped plan, and our eldest son only volunteered for 2 days of camp one year. They barely acknowledge that camp is even happening. Same for most of our extended family. My husband’s mom, in her 80’s, seems to care the most. My sister never even asks. Aside from my mother-in-law and one of my brothers, I don’t think they’ve ever donated a dime toward the cause.
Does it hurt? Absolutely. We know they care about Sam. So why do they blatantly ignore our hard work to provide this experience for him and his friends? Why don’t they ask about our plans to provide day services and residential housing for him? Why don’t they ask how they can help?
In an effort to answer “Why don’t they care?” for myself and others, I had to take a step back and look at the situation analytically. Do they think we don’t want or need their help? Do they think they have nothing to offer? Do they think we have everything under control? As is true about all behavior, the answer lies within the person exhibiting the behavior. When I look objectively at the people who don’t seem to care, I realize they all have one trait in common, they are self-centered or egoistic. I don’t mean that in a negative way, I mean, their lives revolve around themselves and their own affairs, period. It’s how they’re wired. Some people are egoistic and some are altruistic.
Situations can change a person from being egoistic to altruistic. Take, for instance, a victim of domestic violence who opens a women’s shelter or a veteran who lost his legs in battle who now makes artificial limbs for others. If it happens to you, it can change you. Autism changed us. But it didn’t necessarily change my sister, our two older children, or our other family members. We do what we do because we feel called to do it. They don’t. And that’s okay.
In a way, we’re also being egoistic by focusing so intently on our calling that we may not realize what our family members are also going through. It is possible to be egoistic in our altruism! Whoa…that’s deep!
So, when I start feeling badly, wondering why they don’t care or won’t get involved, I try to remember…
- How altruistic was I before autism was a part of my life? Not very.
- They have a lot going on in their lives I know nothing about. I’m busy and I don’t always take the time to ask how they’re doing. That’s on me.
- This is MY calling, not theirs.
- God will send me all the help I need to do what I’ve been called to do. It’s not their responsibility to help.
- That I may be being egoistic in my altruism.