Guest Author - Susan Hart
Siblings of children with special needs often are unintentionally neglected by parents because the parents are so busy taking care of the special needs child. These siblings, however, do need their own individualized attention, and they do suffer if they do not receive valuable time and attention from their parents. Those who feel their special needs siblings receive all the attention often end up bitter, angry, and lonely. In addition, their lack of attention often leads to a poor self image.
How can parents juggle the demands of the special needs child and the needs of the sibling? What can they do to show their children that they are each valued individually? First of all, parents must recognize that their children are each individual, with their own strengths, weaknesses, aspirations, and fears. Discovering the personalities and needs of each child will help parents to determine how best to spend individualized time with each child. Through this one-one-one interaction, parents allow each child to realize that he or she is important and loved for who he is. Sometimes it takes a great deal of planning for parents to spend individual time with their typically developing children. Perhaps the special needs child requires specialized or intensive care, but parents should make any necessary arrangements to spend time with their typically developing children. This can be priceless time for both parent and child. It can also serve as a much needed break for the parents if they are able to leave the special needs child and focus on the individual child they are with at that time.
Siblings of special needs children are often accommodating. They are helpful in taking care of the special needs child; they do not complain when their parents spend so much time and energy in taking care of the special needs child. And yet, they still need that irreplaceable interaction with their parents. Too often, the parents do not realize that their typically developing children feel unloved, overshadowed, or even unwanted. Perhaps these children feel embarrassed of the comments and stares their special needs siblings receive on a regular basis. Maybe they are jealous of the time and energy their parents spend with the special needs child. Parents need to discuss with their children how they feel about having a special needs sibling and what concerns or questions they may have. These siblings do not always understand why their special needs sibling is different. They wonder why and how it happened. They wonder what will happen and how react in difficult social situations. Parents need to speak openly so their children feel comfortable with their special needs sibling, so that they are not scared or worried. Through quality time and good communication, parents and children share a deeper bond, and, in turn, a greater love for each other and for the special needs child.
Everybody Is Different: A Book for Young People Who Have Brothers or Sisters With Autism
Special Siblings: Growing Up With Someone With a Disability