The Cousin Everyone Talks About: When to Speak Up

The weather’s finally warm enough for your friends and relatives to come up the hill for a picnic. The afternoon seems to go fairly well. Your niece in now a vegan, but her grandmother saves the day by bringing tofu hotdogs. Everyone’s talking about your brother, the wandering writer, who “just needs to settle down.” The one thing no one talks about is Greg, who at five years old is the youngest cousin. Ever since Greg was born his parents have used phrases like, “he learns things at his own speed,” or “he has a special way of doing things.” When Greg and his family are not around everyone speculates about what’s going on. These conversations are usually hushed, awkward affairs and everyone ends up feeling a little better (because you’re not alone) but a little worse (because you’re talking behind their backs). Although it’s been five years, you all still can’t agree on what to do. Do you ask Greg’s parents what’s going on and risk offending them? What if nothing’s wrong? Shouldn’t the school system figure it out? Is it really any of your business?

It can be challenging when a close friend or family member has a child that appears to have some special needs, but no one talks about it. We get caught up in debates about what is normal and what is abnormal, the pros and cons of labeling children, the risks and benefits of medication. The reality of the situation is most children who need extra support for any reason (physical, mental, or emotional) but don’t get it begin to fall behind in school. This can quickly become a vicious cycle because as children fall further behind their behavior tends to worsen and now the original issue is buried under new challenges.

So it’s time to stop debating and simply make time for your family to sit down and talk with Greg’s parents. You have valid concerns, and they need to hear it from someone they trust. Worst case scenario they’ll be angry with you for awhile, but best case you’ll save their family a lot of heartache down the road.