March 6, 2017

Child Therapy: Understanding Your Sibling’s Disability

Giving your child enough attention during the day can be a struggle, especially with more than one kid! It can be even trickier if one child requires extra attention due to an impairment or disability. Some days it may feel like there is not enough of you to go around! Typical developing children may feel rejected or ignored if their sibling is receiving the majority of your attention. Understanding why their sibling requires more attention is important. Consider the following as you care for siblings of kids with special needs.

  • ‌Explain the diagnosis. As soon as you know your child’s diagnosis, explain it to other family members. Keep the explanation simple and age-appropriate, but answer all questions honestly. Avoid simplifying the information into kid friendly terms such as “boo boo”. Use the correct term, such as Down syndrome, to avoid any further confusion. Be clear about the cause of the disorder. Children may convince themselves they can develop the disorder by doing certain activities.
  • ‌Effects of the disorder. While explaining the diagnosis, present the information relevant to your child. Discuss why their sibling may require special attention for activities. For instance, “Your sister has Cerebral Palsy, so she has difficulty walking like you and me. Mommy needs to help her get in and out of her wheelchair”. If your child asks questions such as “Will she ever walk”, be realistic in your answer. One response may be, “We do not know if she will walk, but we are going to do everything we can to help her learn”.
  • ‌School age children. Once children enter school age, they are approached with questions from their friends and classmates. Unfortunately, some friends may ask impolite questions or resort to mean name-calling. Rehearse appropriate responses at home before your child is contacted with questions. For example, “My brother has Autism. It is harder for him to learn new things like me and you, but that doesn’t give you a right to say mean things.” Communicate that anger or physical aggression is never appropriate even if they feel upset or hurt. Provide safe alternatives such as telling a teacher or adult, walking away, or saying a rehearsed response.
  • ‌Teenagers: In the teenage years, it is normal for children to want to hang with friends over family. They may feel conflicted with pressures from home and social life. In order to make your child feel valued, give them a choice when it comes to extra responsibilities. Provide them with an option, “If you have not made plans with friends on Saturday night, would you mind watching your sister?” Often times, typically developing children feel extra pressure to succeed in school and after-school activities to relieve some family stress. Be sure to communicate that you do not expect them to be perfect, and you are proud of them.
  • ‌Early Adulthood. As your child gets closer to adulthood, they may become more concerned about their sibling’s future. They might feel regret leaving home to attend college or move out. Express to them that they should embrace their independence and not feel guilty. The future may feel overwhelming for a person entering early adulthood. They may wonder what may occur if something happens to you. Discuss the future together, and discuss tentative plans if something were to happen.

Once your child is fully aware of his or her sibling’s needs, they can be more sympathetic when it comes to sharing attention. Including your child in updates about the disorder or improvement in therapy will help them feel closer to their sibling and part of the process. Even once your child understands the diagnosis, remember that all children have moments of sibling rivalry regardless of disabilities.

Next week, we will discuss ways to help your children create a positive sibling bond!



Caring for Siblings of Kids With Special Needs. (n.d.). Retrieved February 28, 2017, from http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/siblings-special-needs.html#

Helping Siblings Understand Children with Disabilities. (n.d.). Retrieved February 28, 2017, from https://www.lds.org/topics/disability/family/siblings?lang=eng&old=true

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