If you have a child with special needs (like autism or other learning disorders), a lot of your time and energy will go to understanding his condition and giving him support. But what about his brothers and sisters? They may sometimes feel resentful of all the attention he is getting, or think it’s unfair that they are not treated equally. ‘How come he doesn’t get punished if he throws a tantrum?’ Here are some ways to help them understand what is going on.
What siblings are going through
The good news is that, with the right family communication, siblings of kids with special needs grow up to be resilient and are even more emotionally mature. They are also more accepting, and tolerant of another person’s differences.
But they also go through a lot of stress that needs to be addressed. For example, they may feel ‘neglected’ by parents who focus all their attention on their special needs brother or sister. They may sometimes be frustrated or embarrassed by the behaviour (tantrums or inability to communicate. They may be teased in school, or feel that the extra burdens (‘look out for your brother’) are unfair. Sometimes they may even feel guilty that they caused their brother or sister to be ‘sick’ or that they were spared from having the condition themselves.
Give quality time
Set aside time for each of your children. You may have to spend more time with your special needs child but do set aside a special, one-on-one time with other kids, like a regular pizza date or reading time at night.
Help process feelings
Show empathy. Let your child know that whatever feelings they have for their brother are okay. Validation of their emotions will make them feel more comfortable opening up to you.
Explain honestly and clearly
Be honest. It is important to share information with them about the condition and how it will affect he family.
Empower them with activities and ideas
Encourage appropriate play between the child with autism and his siblings. Get them involved and make them feel they are an important part of the family, and that their contribution is important. For example, they can read to their brother, or help out with chores while you bring your special needs child to therapy. But do be realistic when giving out responsibilities. The younger children may be asked to do more than their affected sibling.
Give them a safe place
Create a safe place for the younger children when the older brother has a fit or tantrum. This will avoid feelings of being overwhelmed or getting ‘caught in the crossfire’ of violent behavior. This may even mean just sending them to their room. Afterwards, an explanation of what occurred may help them process the situation.
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