I'm struggling to bond with my niece who has special needs - Any advice?

Daniela - posted on 06/11/2013 ( 2 moms have responded )

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I'm not actually a mom, but am in need of some advice, and was hoping this is be a great place to start.
My niece is 3 years old, and has an undiagnosed genetic condition. We're still waiting on the results from the genetic testing, however she displays many of the characteristics similar to children with Angelman's Syndrome. She's quite far behind on physical development, and can't walk, but can get around by crawling. She can't talk yet, and doesn't really communicate non-verbally either (she doesn't yet use hand gestures such as pointing etc.).
She's a very happy girl, always smiling and laughing, but I'm really struggling to bond with her. I'm very close to my other nieces, but I'm finding it difficult to bond with her on the same level. I really only bonded with my other nieces once they were toddlers, and were beginning to talk and interact on that type of level. I feel really guilty about this, as though I'm a terrible person for not bonding with her. I'm also very worried about the future, and the type of relationship I'd be able to have with her if she is never able to talk.
Do you have any advice/suggestions on bonding with a non-verbal toddler? And do you find that you have a different type of relationship with a special need's child, compared to other children?

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Audra - posted on 06/11/2013

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My 2 year old son is nonverbal and has developmental delays. It certainly makes daily life a little more challenging and communication is frustrating. Like your niece, my son laughs and smiles all the time! I have him in an early intervention program which not only helps him, but helps me learn how to teach him and communicate with alternative methods. You're not a terrible person - you care enough to seek advice! Play games together....bubbles and building blocks have done wonders for us! Take her for a walk in the stroller. Maybe each time you go to visit her, give her goofy kisses all over her head or something else as equally goofy that makes her laugh....she'll associate that action with you and it'll become a routine she looks forward to when you visit. Hang in there and give it time and patience. You sound like a very loving Auntie. Maybe look into early intervention....it's generally offered as a free program through the school district.

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Daniela - posted on 06/13/2013

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Hi Audra,

Thanks so much for your advice! My niece is currently in several types of programmes, all aimed at encouraging her development.
I will certainly try the suggestion of creating a special routine/interaction with her. Hopefully if we develop something which is 'just ours', it will help with the bonding process.

Thanks again!

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