Amy and Kelly Liss, 27, were born three months premature.
Complications left Amy a quadriplegic, while Kelly is able-bodied.
But their parents encouraged both respect and individuality, and
Amy passes on some tips to parents in their situation.
Q: Should parents of twins with different needs cater
more to the non-special needs child?
A: "No, I think parents should treat their kids
the same. Even if a child has special needs, the parents should
still have realistic expectations for what they achieve. I also
think it's important for parents to treat their special needs child
at their age-appropriate level."
Q: What should parents tell their special-needs child
regarding the health or normalcy of the other twin?
A: "You should tell the special needs child
that people are born with different abilities. It just so happens
that they have special needs but it doesn't make them any less
valuable to their family or the world around them."
Twins Veronica and Isabelle Burden look alike, but their
adorable looks hardly reflect their different needs since
The 5-year-old girls were delivered five weeks early by
emergency C-section after complications developed for Veronica. But
Isabelle emerged into this world unscathed. Since then, their lives
have been as different as twins can be.
Liz DeCarlo/Chicago Parent
Veronica, left, was born with spina bifida. Her twin, Isabelle,
Lorenza Foster is a little teacher to her twin
sister Mia, who has Down syndrome.
Isabelle is a healthy girl whose only special need is yearning
to still be carried around by her parents when she can get away
Veronica, however, was born with myelomeningocele, a type of
spina bifida where the back spinal canal does not close before
At just 2 days old, she had her back surgically closed. At 9
days old, a shunt was implanted. Another surgery corrected a
serious eye problem. And chronic bladder issues prompted several
more surgeries, as well as ongoing complications that include the
need to be catheterized five times a day.
"Yes, Veronica has certainly had a more challenging life,"
admits her mom, Nancy Burden, of Palos Park.
Veronica's most recent eight-hour surgery took place May 21 to
reconstruct her bladder and bowel, and she will face more scalpels
and stitches in her future. Yet even though she uses crutches and a
walker to get around, she's the twin who longs to walk on her own,
"Veronica is more outgoing and more determined," her mother
This seems to be a common theme with twins and triplets who share
similar looks but different fates in life, experts say. Another
telling aspect of such siblings is a healthy, yet sometimes
jealous, rivalry between the healthy sibling and the sibling with
"There is some jealousy between my girls," Nancy says.
And this jealousy goes both ways. Just as Veronica may be
jealous of Isabelle's good health, Isabelle may be jealous of all
the attention heaped on Veronica since birth-doctor visits, routine
surprises and myriad gifts from family and friends, for
Still, a more uplifting aspect of being twins in such a
situation is that the sibling with special needs is often inspired,
if not provoked, by the healthy sibling.
"Having Isabelle as a twin sister has really helped Veronica's
development," Nancy says. "I don't know where she would be without
It's Isabelle who prompts Veronica to walk independently. It's
Isabelle who urges Veronica to play outside. And it's Isabelle who
spurs Veronica to be just like other kids their age.
"She sees what Isabelle can do and she wants to do it too,"
Not a rare situation
Kim Foster experiences a similar situation with her 3-year-old
twin girls, Lorenza, who is healthy, and Mia, who was born with
"It's like Lorenza is a little teacher to Mia on a daily basis,"
says Foster, a school psychologist from Brookfield. "She helps her
with walking, talking and even playing."
Miranda Coleman's 12-year-old twin sons are identical in
appearance, but not in health or their daily needs. Thomas was born
with congenital heart problems while Sidney had no complications
during their premature births.
"But the odd thing is that Sidney has always been Thomas' big
brother, of sorts, even though Thomas came into this world a few
minutes earlier," says Coleman, of Chicago.
Thomas' life has been more challenging and his "little brother"
has always sensed that somehow, their mother says.
"It's like Sidney was sent into this world to protect and help
Thomas," she says. "Although he knows that Thomas has special
needs, he also knows that he and Thomas are kindred spirits-an
all-for-one and one-for-all attitude."
Amy and Kelly Liss share in this phenomenon.
The women, now 27, were born three months premature, with Kelly
suffering two collapsed lungs and other health problems during
delivery. But she recovered and is able-bodied today.
The difficult birth left Amy with spastic quadriplegic cerebral
palsy due to lack of oxygen. She is in a wheelchair and unable to
stand, walk, crawl or feed herself independently.
However, literally from day one their parents planted the seed
of mutual respect for one another, they say.
"They encouraged each of us to do our best with the abilities we
have," says Kelly, who lives in Chicago.
"My parents did a great job of including me in all family
activities," says Amy, who lives in Downers Grove. "They always
encourage me to do my best and be as independent as possible. They
are realistic of what I can and can't do."
Still, even in the best of circumstances, the issues can be
"Families with twins or more who have a child with special needs
are wise to be aware of balancing their time, attention and
energies fairly between each of their kids," says Dr. Shelly Vaziri
Flais, author of Raising Twins, From Pregnancy to Preschool-Advice
from a Pediatrician Mom of Twins. "At the same time, parents should
have a realistic outlook and know that there will be periods of
time (weeks or even months) where one child takes the 'front seat';
try not to feel guilty about this, but remember that you're doing
the best you can, and that each of your children, over the long
haul, will take center stage at various points."
Flais also advises parents to keep their expectations of the
healthier twin in check. "...Know that your other children will
have mood swings and bad days (as frustrating as that may be, given
all your other responsibilities). Communicate with your kids about
it, let your kids know that it is OK to be human and have such
feelings, and work together to develop coping strategies to move
Jerry Davich is a dad of two and freelance writer.
See more of Jerry's stories here.
Jerry Davich is a freelance writer and father of two living in the Chicago area.
See more of Jerry's stories here.
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