"Hey, I'm Also Here!" Supporting the Sibling of a Special Needs Child

Jul 13, 2021

Written by Tosin Ade

The journey of raising a special needs child affects all siblings. While each sibling reacts differently, we cannot overlook their unique experiences as it relates to being the sibling of a special needs child. The needs of special needs children often differ from neurotypical children.

For this reason, parents have to perform a balancing act of catering to the needs of the special needs child and the neurotypical sibling. Perhaps, one of the most difficult aspects of this sibling dynamic is that the neurotypical child begins to feel that he/she is no longer the parents’ focus.

Though many siblings of special needs children do not like to admit it, they are very aware that having a special needs sibling has an impact on all family members. For the sibling of a special needs child, there are unique challenges that will be faced. Although it may be difficult at times, parents should ensure that siblings are given multiple opportunities to create memories together. Parents have the responsibility of helping the neurotypical child view the sibling relationship through a positive lens. Let the siblings create experiences that showcase the wonderful things and joyful moments that are experienced as a result of having a special needs sibling in the family.

In addition to providing opportunities for shared experiences, parents should consider involving the neurotypical sibling in decisions and discussions regarding diagnosis, treatment, and management of the diagnosed disability. Understandably, certain aspects of diagnosis and treatment might not be age-appropriate. The child’s age, maturity, and comfort level should be factored into these discussions. While parents might not see the need to discuss diagnosis and treatment with the sibling of a special needs child, there are great upsides to doing so.

As a parent, when you discuss details surrounding a sibling’s disability with their sibling, you foster inclusion, empathy, and understanding.  For example, in the case of a special needs child who has recently been diagnosed with Autism. A discussion with the neurotypical child about behavior patterns found in autistic individuals can help the sibling develop an understanding of why his or her sibling struggles with transitions or only wants to eat foods of specific texture and color.

When discussing the diagnosis, questions and concerns will arise. Parents should answer questions and address concerns as detailed as possible. You should refrain from telling the siblings not to worry. Answer questions and ensure understanding. If the sibling does not have questions or concerns, let the sibling know that you will always be available to answer questions and concerns whenever he or she is ready.

Parenting a special needs child can be so overwhelming and all-consuming that finding quality time with the neurotypical child is outrightly impossible. This is very understandable. However, we cannot negate the fact that quality time is essential to reduce the feeling of neglect most siblings of special needs children often experience. It will really make a world of difference to have a scheduled monthly date or one-on-one activity with the neurotypical child. It reduces resentment on the part of the sibling and also reduces the parent’s guilt of not giving adequate attention.

This African-American father was shown in the process of teaching his young daughter how to properly wash her hands at their kitchen sink, briskly rubbing her soapy hands together under fresh running tap water, in order to remove germs, and contaminants, thereby, reducing the spread of pathogens, and the ingestion of environmental chemicals or toxins. Children are taught to recite the Happy Birthday song, during hand washing, allotting enough time to completely clean their hands.

The advantages of providing support to siblings of special needs children go beyond immediate familial benefits. Siblings of special needs children who are supported and included, tend to be more accepting of differences within the society. They are also more likely to show empathy towards people with disabilities. They are more tolerant and they make great advocates for the disabled community. And if we are honest with each other, individuals with disabilities could use more advocates.

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