This article gives the views on disability of a brother and sister.
Peter Flynn (UK) and Margaret Flynn (UK)Peter:
I was four when my sister Mary was born. She kept us awake during the night. She was a lovely baby but was noisy which all babies are at her age. I was six when Margaret was born and eight when Frances was born. Margaret liked to make us laugh and she tickled us and teased. Frances was a good baby.
When I was little I liked games like hide and seek. I liked visiting people with my mother and sisters. We had two aunties who used to give us money and sweets so we did not want our dinner. Mum did not like us going there before we had meals.
We used to go on holiday. There was one place where there were lots of dogs and I did not like that. We have lots of photos of our holidays. I like photos. I look like my dad's family. Margaret and I look alike. You can tell we are brother and sister.
I went to a special school which I did not like. You got picked on. Then I went to an Adult Training Centre which I did not like. We used to put screws in boxes all day and folded paper hats for parties. It was ever so boring. You could not ever leave the Centre till going home at night. Mary, Margaret and Frances went to a different school because they were cleverer than me. They had to leave really early in the morning to get two buses. It took me half an hour to walk to school. I have always liked walking. We all walk a lot.
We always went to church on Sundays. I like singing hymns. We used to listen to a lot of music at home and I still enjoy my tapes and records. Frances plays the piano and the organ in church.
I have five nephews and a niece. I like being an uncle. It was easier when they were babies. I could read to them then and tell them stories. Now they're older and it's different.
I wish we could all be treated the same.
As Peter's sister, I have thought about how to complement his memories and ideas. I am struck by several strong emotional memories and impressions which do not pretend to completeness.
It was when Peter was with other children that, from an early age, I became attuned to perceptions of differentness. I recall standing beside him when he was being teased and knowing that I had to be there. This unreserved loyalty and love remains and is shared by my sisters. It may have been nurtured by our sense that Peter progressively became the youngest sibling, in spite of the birth order.
Games and puzzles did not feature in our childhood. I do not recall this being discussed, but it perhaps reflected my parents concerns that Peter should be included. Rival explanations are that we are hopeless at games and have an underdeveloped sense of competitiveness.
Dad teaching Peter to read in the evenings is an early memory. Mum reading to the four of us most nights completes this memory. A love of stories, being read to and writing is shared still by the four of us.
I was aware of Peter's intellectual disability as an adolescent. Telling friends who were to visit or stay about Peter was something I gave progressively less thought to. The responses of potential boyfriends to Peter mattered. I remember the drowning relief of discovery that Peter did not require my attentive interpretations or explanations - 'he is as he is' was a familiar family refrain.
Mum's illness and death in early adulthood were hugely significant; looked after by all of us, they were times short on silver linings. Peter's contributions to mum's care tangibly challenged the limitations associated with his intellectual disability. I have learned that this term is tiresomely imprecise.
Writing a children's book with Peter about his experiences of having an intellectual disability was a revelation. For me it affirmed the importance of being awake to people's exceptional qualities, no matter how we are labelled.
Sadness at some of the hardships and indifference Peter has experienced in living 'independently' for over 20 years is lessened by the affection and loyalty of our friends. Their constancy, potent actions and love require neither analysis nor maintenance. With a handful of exceptions, the services supporting Peter have coloured my views about professional 'caring.' Doubt-free, self-sustaining, segregated service 'fixes' cannot speak of respect for Peter's personhood, his unique qualities or the interdependence of our lives.
I wonder if some of the sifting and sorting of these memories and reflections unstitches some of the certainties I recall from 'sibling relationship' research, i.e. the siblings of people with intellectual disabilities develop 'old heads on young shoulders' - perhaps we did but our childhood was not dominated by Peter's intellectual disability; and we go into caring professsions - a nurse, a researcher and a teacher maybe fit this script, but Peter's experience of and aspirations to care for others are arguably part of this shared impulse - if it exists at all.
Margaret and Peter Flynn (1998) Having a Learning Disability. 'Think About' series. (London: Belitha Press)
This article was first published on the site in 2003. Reviewed in 2019, content continues to be relevant.