“A boy stands quietly as his older sister screams and draws attention in the store. He stands motionless as his sister continues to have “one of her moments” while Mom tries to calm her, all the while people walk by staring and whispering under their breath. He stands a pillar of emotions churning in him; feeling embarrassment, guilt, anger, jealousy and possibly resentment”.
-10 year old sibling of 14 year old with autism
The balancing act of parenting more than one child is a hard task, not to be taken lightly, but when one child has a disability, that balancing act becomes harder.
Although the needs of the child with disability are never far from a parent’s mind, the needs of the child or children without the disability can be easily over looked by the parents. It is therefore important to make sure that the needs of children without disabilities are not in second place.
Here are two basic things a parent should do to help their child understand that they are as much in their parent’s mind as their brother/sister with the disability.
Maintain open lines of communication:
· This includes parents educating their child about their brother’s or sister’s disability; presenting information in a way that match their own developmental needs and ability. For example a 5 year old may need to understand that they are not the cause of their sibling’s disability and that the disability is not contagious.
· Share your challenges with each other. Allow a time where your child without a disability can express their feelings and empathize with the child. Share with them some of your own struggles and feelings. This will help the child know that any feeling of frustration or embarrassment can be normal and they will not feel guilty for their feelings. Remember communication is a two part activity: Speaking and Listening
"Allowing them to express their frustrations and negative feelings related to having a sibling with special needs is often difficult for parents because of their own angst and desire to meet all of the needs of all of their children, but it is crucial in helping 'typical' children feel understood and important." says Leslie Petruk, M.A., LPC, NCC, a therapist and mom to a child with special needs and two without.
· Set aside an uninterrupted regularly scheduled one-on-one time to spend with each child. Make sure that they feel that this is their “special time” with their parent.
· It is not always the activity that is important but the attention that the child receives. Examples may be going out on small parent/child dates to a movie or even just having “small talks” alone before bedtime.
"One of the best ways to help minimize emotional challenges for your typical child is to make sure they are not neglected and get the time and attention they need from you," - Leslie Petruk, M.A., LPC, NCC
“Special needs kids and well siblings” She Knows Parenting. Retrieved on August 7, 2012, from http://www.sheknows.com/parenting/articles/2128/special-needs-kids-and-well-siblings
Burns, A (Apr 17, 2012) “Parenting a disabled child: When another child isn't disabled” She knows Parenting. Retrieved on August 8, 2012, from http://www.sheknows.com/parenting/articles/956459/parenting-a-child-with-a-disability
Kutner, L. (2012). When A Sibling Is Disabled. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 9, 2012, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/2007/when-a-sibling-is-disabled/
Rosen, M. (Nov 19, 2011) “Family: Finding the right balance with disabled children” The Press-Enterprise. Retrieved on August 9, 2012, from http://www.pe.com/local-news/columns/mitchell-rosen-headlines/20111120-family-finding-the-right-balance-with-disabled-children.ece
Staff of the Family Support Program (including original content as well as curated links to various authors around the web.)