A Sibling's Perspective - Penn-Mar

A Sibling’s Perspective

Posted on June 4, 2024

By Doug Summerson, Penn-Mar Sibling
A young boy and a young girl posing for a family picture.

Doug Summerson (L) and Abbie Summerson (R) as children.

I have one sibling – my older sister, Abbie.

At an early age, Abbie was diagnosed with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and autism. She communicates verbally but does not have the ability to do typical daily tasks that most take for granted. Her mood can swing wildly from one minute to the next. She often yells and sometimes expresses herself physically.

During childhood, a time when we all crave social acceptance, this weighed heavily on me. I used to wish my sister was “normal” and wondered why this happened to my family. Why didn’t I have siblings like all my friends and classmates? I worried about how others viewed me because of my sister.

Abbie and Doug as adults posing for a picture outside together.My most vivid memory comes from elementary school. Abbie and I were in the same school because her disabilities were not as well recognized or understood back then, and schools didn’t have the funding or support to serve differently.  I suddenly heard her screaming in the hallway, having the kind of meltdown that usually needed to run its course. However, all I could feel in that moment, as I sunk low into my chair, was everyone’s eyes staring at me as they snickered to one another.

It wasn’t until my later teenage years that I came to recognize the value of my experiences. Rather than wish for different circumstances, I started to focus on what I had learned. Reflecting, I realized that I no longer envied other families. Instead, I felt sorry for those who couldn’t experience the same childhood I did.

My sister, parents, and friends taught me to:

  • Value the positive in every situation.
  • Appreciate strong friendships and relationships – rather than care about opinions of the masses.
  • Accept others’ differences. Don’t distance yourself, ignore, or battle those who act and look different than you.
  • Do everything to the best of your ability. My sister, and many like her, work hard to stretch themselves to achieve and learn more, often in circumstances that do not accommodate their differences.

Though it took me far too many years to recognize – a lot of who I am is because of my sister and my wonderful family. Finding Penn-Mar has been a transformative experience for both Abbie and our entire family. When I think about what Penn-Mar means to me, it boils down to three things:

  1. Inclusion: This has been a lifelong challenge for my sister, but Penn-Mar has provided a sense of community and belonging that is truly invaluable. Seeing my sister form meaningful connections with both peers and staff has been heartwarming. Her home is more than just a place to live; it’s a place where my sister feels understood, accepted, and valued for who she is.
  2. Independence: While my sister still requires a lot of individualized attention and support (which the wonderful staff provides), she has the opportunity for independence. Having her own apartment has created a pride in organization and cleanliness of her home. She has gotten to volunteer at churches and animal shelters, supported by her staff.
  3. Peace of Mind: Supporting someone with special needs is no easy task, and my parents are nothing short of superheroes. The decision to allow someone else to care for your child/sister who cannot take care of herself independently, is a difficult one. But Penn-Mar is special. Knowing that my sister is in a safe, caring, and enriching environment has alleviated many of the concerns we had about her well-being and future.

We are deeply grateful for the unwavering support, compassion, and excellence Penn-Mar has provided and we look forward to continuing to be a part of this wonderful community.

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