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6 Ways to Support Siblings of Kids with Special Needs

6 Ways to Support Siblings of Kids with Special Needs

Supporting special needs siblings starts with acknowledging that its hard.


So often, parents feel like they’re not doing enough for their kids. When you’re the parent of a child with special needs, that worry is taken to a different level as you work to make sure your child is getting everything they need to thrive. Another big concern? The impact your efforts to help your child with special needs thrive is having on your other children.

“When a child has special needs, parents have to learn to balance both the needs of that child and the needs of siblings,” explains Melissa Packwood, an educational consultant, certified teacher, and a mother to multiple children with special needs. “It can seem like the child with special needs gets special treatment when parents are simply meeting the child’s needs and making appropriate accommodations for that child.”

So, how can you make sure all of your kids are getting the love and support they need?

Supporting Siblings of Kids with Special Needs

Here are some tips to get you started.

Acknowledge it’s hard. Talk openly with your children about the challenges of having a sibling with special needs, recommends Emily Holl, director of The Sibling Support Project. Not only is it important to allow children to express how they are feeling, but it will also allow you to implement changes that help all kids in the family feel more included and supported.

Create small moments with each child. As the saying goes, quality over quantity. Simply create opportunities—10-15 minutes is enough—where each child has some time with you, recommends April J. Lisbon, Ed.D., an autism workplace advocate at Running Your Race Enterprises and a mother of three, including one child on the autism spectrum. “Nothing fancy: It can be making a meal or playing a board game together.”

Make it a group effort. Create activities that can involve all of your kids, says Daniel Koffler of New Frontiers. This can include things like preparing for meals, getting ready for school, story time, board or video games, drawing, and more. “By including everyone, you can still give the added attention needed to your special needs children, but it helps parents with the balancing act by having everyone together,” Koffler says.

Keep communication open. Kathy Heath, an autism awareness advocate behind The Autism Edit and mom of three children, including one on the autism spectrum, makes sure to let all of her kids know that she and her husband are open to answering any of their questions—and nothing is off limits. “If they feel uncomfortable or treated unfairly, the door is always open to tell us where we are not meeting their needs and how we can improve our relationship with them,” she explains.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Avoid expectations. While some kids may gravitate toward a helping role, especially as they get older, it’s not fair or reasonable to expect them to always drop what they are doing in order to manage their sibling’s needs. “Parents are wise to be aware of how much they are relying on their kids to act as a parent or replace their leisure time with sibling care, as it can lead to resentment of the special needs sibling as well as parents,” Holl warns.

Give yourself a break. Realize that there is no manual to creating balance at home. Give yourself grace when things don't go according to plan, Dr. Lisbon says.


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Author: Linda DiProperzio has written extensively on parenting issues for Parents, American Baby, Parenting, and Family Circle, among others. She lives in New York with her husband and two sons. See More

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