How do you explain to a typically developing precocious and inquisitive 9 year- old that things aren’t always fair or equal in his household. How can you make him understand that he has to help do the dishes while the other child gets to watch a movie. How do you explain why his needs come second to the other child when he becomes ill. How do you explain why he has to share all of his things, but the other child doesn’t always have to. How do you explain that you will not be home to cook dinner or help with his homework because the other child needs you to be with him.
For some siblings, especially those born before their special needs sibling, it may seem like the relationship they used to have their parent has now been sabotaged. They witness their brother or sister getting more time and attention. In some cases the siblings of the special needs child may get fewer consequences for bad behavior, which should seem pleasing to them, but, in reality, it makes the them feel neglected.
While children don’t need their parents to spend the exact amount of time with them that they spend with the special needs sibling, they do need some special one-on -one time allocated to just you and them.
A child may have special needs, but his siblings have special needs too. While we can’t change the circumstances, we can validate those children’s feelings and try to help them understand why things are the way they are. It has taken me 10 years to realize the importance of trying to help my “other children” understand why sometimes the rules look different for them.
While the siblings don’t always appreciate or accept the differences, it has helped to stop ignoring those differences and provide each of them with explanations that make sense, such as “your brother gets TV time when he gets home because it is the only way he will rest and that is very important to keep him healthy.”
Of course, I have different conversations with each of my children, keeping the explanations age-appropriate. For instance, a 6th grader is going to comprehend a more in depth explanation than a 1st grader who may require a more simplistic explanation.
While we may not be able to give all of our other children equal time, we can give each one his own special time. Research has shown that the formula for helping our children feel equally loved isn’t about counting minutes on a clock but rather directing an equal amount of adoration at each child, individually (Skotko, 2015).
Siblings of special needs children need our extra love and support. They need help to understand that we, as special needs moms and dads make incredible sacrifices to do what we do, but we also have to understand that on many levels the siblings of special needs children make incredible sacrifices too.