By Alkesh Patel LPC, CSAC, CEO
Raising children with special needs can seem like a challenging task, not only for parents but for other siblings too. Back in the 1970s researchers considered siblings of children with disabilities as disadvantaged in many ways. However, lots of research has been done during that time and it is observed that both the siblings and child with special needs actually benefit in many ways.
The modern framework suggests that the siblings may gain abilities such as adaptability, empathy, and enhanced tolerance. That being said, increased anxiety is also experienced in such siblings, especially in cases of underprivileged families.
One thing is clear that other siblings have needs too. Parents can do a good job of managing all their children with the help of a few strategies and resources. Let’s take a look at them down below:
Let us assume one of your sons has autism. His siblings care about his well being as much as you do. But, often other children are kept in the dark, and parents don’t disclose any information to them such as unusual hospital visits and what their therapist said.
Children have a very vivid imagination. If you hide information from them, their minds can automatically assume the worst scenarios. The best approach is to educate your children about the diagnosis with the appropriate information according to their age.
Set equal expectations
Siblings of children with special needs often go through a phenomenon called parentification in which they feel a sense of increased caregiving and responsibility towards their special sibling. This might seem good to the parents, as children can help them with responsibilities. But, too much of it can lead to behavioral problems and feelings of rejection later on in life.
It is advisable by experts that you let your other kids stay kids for as long as they can. Parents should reassure other children that they are doing their best to help their siblings and have future plans for them. This takes the stress off of children’s minds.
Also, pay equal attention to your other children so they don’t feel any resentment. Be careful about how you interpret the disability. Approach it with humor and grace, as if it’s something you will all go through together. This way, your children will have a more positive outlook.
Give the other siblings time to connect
Isolation is one of the major issues siblings face. They can feel left out and even undergo loneliness and depression ages as young as five years old. It can benefit the siblings to have short private interactions with their parents. Parents should be open and listen actively to their children.
These short moments of connection can strengthen the emotional connection with parents. Parents should make sure children don’t have their feelings bottled up. This can help the siblings express their feelings so you can move towards better problem-solving.