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  • Pepi M. Silverman

In Families, Everyone Is "Special"

Having a child with special needs has an impact on the whole family. Sisters and brothers of the child with special needs share in the support of their sibling and can wonder if they are as “important”.

Here are three steps you can take to help children handle the challenges that come with having a sibling with special needs.

1. Talk openly about the situation

It’s essential for parents to clearly explain what is going on to siblings and answer any questions they may have. “Some siblings may not fully understand what is happening with their brother or sister. They may feel guilty about it, that they somehow caused it. Or they may feel like they aren’t as important as their brother or sister because they don’t get as much attention.”

It’s important for parents to listen to concerns the other children may have, and reassure them that you love them. Children will appreciate that you both acknowledge and validate their perspectives. Parents don’t have to use formal jargon like ADHD or autism or OCD. But they need to describe the behavior that kids might find concerning, and make it clear that it isn’t willful.

2. Spread the support around

When you have a child with special needs who needs a great deal of support and encouragement, the other children may feel that their achievements are taken for granted, they not getting as much praise as the struggling child.

So it’s important to “spread the support around.” If you’re, say, really trying to reinforce one sibling’s behavior, instead of ignoring another sibling’s bid for attention, look for something very soon afterwards that’s positive about what that sibling is doing, and give him the same level of positive reinforcement.”

3. Find time to give individualized attention to each child in the family

Whether it is setting aside quiet time into the bedtime routine and setting special dates for each child to chose an activity to share with a parent, by designating that time, all children feel their importance in the family.

As kids develop, their identity forms based on the experiences in childhood. Validation, acknowledgement, and time can be valuable resources in the support of every child in the family.

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