Siblings of kids with special needs also have their own specific set of needs

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Being the parent of a child with special needs can be both beautiful and challenging. Siblings of children with special needs endure pressures that many parents can overlook, their problems can be minimized because they are the “healthy” one. Growing up is tough on any kid, and they can often be faced with uncomfortable questions from classmates about their sibling—or even bullying.

As you take care of your child with special needs, keep in mind the feelings your other children can have as they cope with understanding their brother or sister’s situation.

Being singled out. Kids at school might notice their sibling acts a certain way, and this leads them to experience intolerance early on. The feeling that they need to constantly explain why their sibling has special needs can be upsetting, especially when they love and accept their sibling the way they are.

Growing up too quickly. Taking care of a sibling with special needs gives a sense of responsibility that other kids the same age don’t understand yet. Perseverance is often a trait seen in siblings of kids with special needs, but this also puts pressure on them to be more mature and even perfectionist in all aspects of their lives.

Not being able to express themselves. With so much attention on their sibling, their emotional needs may not be met as they wrestle with elevated responsibility and pressures from kids at school.

How parents can be there for both children

  1. Create a large support system. Involving caretakers outside the immediate family can enable siblings of children with special needs to pick resources to use. Knowing there are multiple people to go to if they are experiencing issues in their lives helps them feel heard. Involving teachers or other after school programs creates a space for them to communicate feelings.
  2. Be honest and inclusive. Making sure your child knows what is going on with their sibling can help them feel in control. Depth should depend on their age and maturity level. Decisions should be made as a family to make everyone feel part of a team.
  3. Set aside special time for each child. One on one time with each child and parent helps strengthen the bond and creates space for communication. Whether it’s once a week ice cream or a special shared hobby, this time is important to take a step back from the difficulties that can occur when a member of the family has special needs.

Having a child with special needs is a wonderful learning experience that does not have to be done alone. Reach out to services in the community and accept help when you feel it’s needed.