Thinking About the Sibling of a Special Needs Child

Dear Sharon,

Our 6 year old son is having development delays and quite naturally we are focused quite a bit on his issues. Lately, I’ve been worried that we are neglecting our older child who is a 10 year old boy. I feel he is angry about the amount of attention his little brother is getting and I am wondering if you have any advice for us?

Dear Parents,

Most siblings are upset if and when their brother or sister is “soaking up” their parents attention. A special needs child can easily stretch hard working parents but there are things you can do to keep your attention balanced and help your 10 year old feel less neglected and angry.

Many parents I know have counteracted the frustration and resentment that can understandably build up in an overshadowed sibling by setting aside a designated time slot to spend alone with their “typical” child. An hour is often a sufficient amount to choose but if there is more available, great!

It is important to keep the “date” consistent, ideally picking a time every week that will work well for everyone. It is also helpful to let the child choose what to do. The combination of choice and regularity can compensate for any unwanted accomodations a sibling often has to make as parents juggle his sibling’s needs.

“Dates” such as these can be nice for parents as well, giving them a chance to have space from the pressures of special needs parenting while creating an opportunity to have undivided attention for their other young one.

Whenever possible it is also important to find times to listen to the sibling of a special needs child talk about the details of his day. Even though many 10 year olds don’t have a protracted night time routine they often wind down enough to “open up” at bed time. One on one listening time can be hard to find in a special needs household so taking advantage of these opportunities can help maintain close and communicative parent child relationships.

If and when things are ever calm at home it is also good to relaxedly check in with typical children about how things are going with their sibling. It can make a big difference for young people to have the opportunity to share their care as well as their thoughts and frustrations with an empathetic mom or dad.

Parents I know have also found it helpful to socialize with other families who have special need and typical siblings. Even if the traditionally developing children don’t talk directly about their brother or sister it helps to know that they are not alone.

It can also be helpful to check the internet and this magazine for a list of the growing number of family camps, organizations and meet up groups in New York that sponsor interesting activites for special needs families.

When I meet with parents of special needs children moms and dads often talk about their typical children. I am glad that you too are focusing on your 10 year old and happy that he is letting you know how he feels. I think that together you can find ways to have things go well