10 Ways to Help a Child with a Special Needs Sibling

Siblings of a child with special needs are at a greater risk than average of developing emotional issues, anxiety, and stress.

Let’s talk about some things that you, as a parent or caregiver, can do to help the sibling of a child with special needs.

Parents of a special needs children may encounter myriad issues.  Some of the issues are expected such as the additional expense, mental and emotional drain, and day-to-day management of life.

However, there is something until you are a parent of special needs you would not necessarily consider being a concern – guilt. It is something that most parents experience at some point in their parenting journey.

When you have a child with special needs, you experience guilt in all facets of your life; wondering if somehow you caused this, guilt from enjoying time away from your child, and of course the guilt of how being a special needs family affect your other child(ren).

“Siblings of children with disabilities are at a greater risk than average of developing emotional issues, anxiety, and stress. These problems are known as internalizing issues, not visible, and may be an attempt by these siblings to hide their problems; they may want to be well-behaved or protect their already overburdened parents.” – Avidan Milevsky Ph.D. – Siblings of Children with Disabilities.

Let’s talk about some things that you as a parent or caregiver can do to help the sibling of a special needs child. Ten things you can do that may help your child(ren) handle the challenges of having a sibling with special needs.

10 Ways to Help a Child with a Special Needs Sibling

1. Therapy for the Sibling

Stated earlier, siblings have a higher risk of developing emotional issues, therefore; therapy is a necessity. While it may appear that your other child is doing well or handling the situation better than expected, they may still have concerns that require professional advice and intervention.

It is best that the sibling also feel like they have a person that is just for them and is not someone who they may feel is biased towards the special needs child.

2. Open Dialogue

You cannot hide special needs from a sibling nor can you pretend that it is not affecting the other child. Not everything about special needs is bad, and by not communicating openly regarding the situation you may inadvertently be sending that message.

Allow the sibling to tell you how they feel about having a sibling who has special needs. Depending on the age, they may not realize how this will impact their life long term. Therefore, it is essential to have an ongoing dialogue.

3. Information

Having open communication is important, but be mindful about the information that you are giving. Keep the child’s age and maturity when deciding how much information to give.

Here are several books that can help you with providing appropriate information.

4. Sibling Support

The sibling should feel supported by their brother or sister. While it may not be feasible for all cases when it can be applied, it should. The sibling should feel that their special needs sibling will be in attendance for the events that are happening in their lives.

While the special needs child may not be able to articulate, or communicate their feelings the simple fact that they showed up will hold equal importance.

5. Family Time

Having family time without the special needs child will let the sibling know that you are doing your best to give them time with just them.

Scheduling one-on-one is important, but it is also beneficial to schedule mommy/daddy/sibling time. Spend time bonding and hearing your child’s concerns about their life. 

6. Life Lessons

Special needs siblings learn important life lessons that most parents would love for their children to have. Compassion, empathy, and understanding are valuable pieces of education that parents would love to teach their children. 

“Every day Andy teaches me never to give up. He knows he is different, but he doesn’t focus on that. He doesn’t give up, and every time I see him having a hard time, I make myself work that much harder. I don’t know what I would do without Andy. He changed my life. If I had not grown up with him, I would have less understanding, patience, and compassion for people. He shows us that anyone can do anything.” – Meyer, D. Views From Our Shoes.

7. Connection for Siblings

Unless you also have a sibling with special needs, it is going to be difficult to understand what the child may be experiencing truly. Research local area groups to connect with others who may want to have sibling get together that have a similar situation.

If you are unable to find a connection you can start your own, you would be surprised to see how many others would be interested in having a place for their “other” child to go and vent.

8.  It’s NOT Fair

Do not give your child the speech about life not being fair. While you may think that you are helpful, it is more important to validate their feelings and acknowledged their concerns.

Having a special needs sibling is not fair, but you can try to create a balance within the household to mitigate some of the issues.

9. Designate Household Responsibility Properly

If the special needs child is able to give them household responsibilities. Allow the special needs child to do as much for himself as possible. It may be easier to have the other child do activities and exclude the special need, nonetheless, it is not best.

Remember they are still siblings, imagine if your sibling didn’t have to do anything and you had to carry all the load. Having one child do all the work will create resentment and not allow the siblings to have a positive and healthy relationship later on.

10. Help the Sibling Interact with the Special Needs Sibling

When children are, younger this is easier to do, however as children grow up, the distance becomes bigger. While developmental delay and social interactions play a huge part, it doesn’t mean that their relationship has to come to an end.

Teach them how to interact and do things together. It may not be a neurotypical sibling relationship, but it is still a sibling relationship.

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