Supporting the Siblings of Special Needs Children
If you’ve got a child with disabilities and a typically developing child, you know it can be tough to find a way to give each child the time and attention they need and want Sometimes it can seem like the needs of your disabled child take up all your time. You may be wondering what your typically developing child feels toward their disabled sibling and how you can make sure they both maintain a healthy relationship with one another, while that child also maintains a close, and open, relationship with you and your spouse.
It's important to check in with our typically developing children and make sure we're not missing any red flags that indicate something is off emotionally, mentally, or physically. Here are some tips for keeping the lines of communication open.
Spend one on one time with each of your children. Maximize this time by learning your child's love language.
When your typically developing child has a question about their disabled sibling, answer them honestly using age appropriate terms and language. Don't try to hide too much from them, but don't frighten them either. You might be surprised to learn what they think they know about their siblings condition.
It's okay to ask your typically developing children to help with their disabled sibling, but watch out for parentification (Parentification is the process of role reversal whereby a child or adolescent is obliged to act as parent to their own parent or sibling.). Make sure you aren't placing too much responsiblity on your typically developing child. They should be able to say no. If you find you are relying on their help too much, it's a sign you need to bring in outside help. Your children should be able to have as normal a sibling relationship as possible; it should not be soley a caregiving type relationship.
Let your typcially developing child know they can come to you with their problems or concerns and that it's not a burden for you to help them with these problems. Your child may feel that you're already too overwhelmed, and may try to deal with things on their own, or hide them from you. They may also feel they need to be "perfect" to "make up for" their disabled sibling. Make sure they know that you can make time for them.
As your typcially developing children get older, they will become aware of how other people perceive their disabled sibling. You may need to help them learn to advocate for their sibling, and the proper way to deal with staring and comments. Your typically developing child loves their special needs siblings unconditionally and it can be hard for them to understand why other people might think something is wrong with your disabled child.
If your typically developing child has concerns you feel unable to address on your own, consider a sibling support group or professional counseling.
Check with national organizations related to your child's diagnosis to see if they offer sibling support.
Our founder Kelly Mantoan's book Better Than OK; Finding Joy As A Special Needs Parent has a chapter on sibling relationships and how to grow in the virtue of understanding. Check it out for some more ideas.
What other suggestions do you have for supporting the siblings of special needs children? Let us know in the comments below. This post is also available as a video.