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By Heather Miller, LCSW – Nov. 5, 2019

Parents of a child with special needs have many to-do lists that involve various types of therapies and appointments throughout the week. With life already busy, the extra time commitment chips away at any free time that could be available. This not only impacts the parents but can equally impact the siblings of children with special needs. 

Typically children are quick to note anything they feel is unfair. A sibling who notices that a parent is often with the child with special needs may feel jealousy and resentment. For a parent already trying to balance so much, this additional reaction from a child can be difficult to process. 

Following are some suggestions for helping a sibling of a child with special needs understand the reasons behind what they may feel is unfair:

  • Educate the siblings about their brother or sister’s special needs using a strengths-based perspective. Focus on what the child can do and explain the idea that everyone is unique.  The age of the sibling needs to be taken into account when deciding how much information to share. Keep it age-appropriate and explain in a manner the child can understand.
  • Include the sibling in helping the child with special needs as they want to. Children are often the best teachers for each other. Giving the sibling a task to help their brother or sister complete will give them a sense of accomplishment and positive interaction with their sibling.
  • Look for common ground.  Search for activities that both children can enjoy. Even a short activity can be a great bonding experience for everyone.
  • Ensure the sibling has opportunities to do what they want to do.  Making a special effort to have time for the sibling to participate in an activity (solo or with friends) is important.  This allows them time to be their own person and develop their own interests. 
  • Validate the feelings of the sibling. According to Michigan Medicine, some common emotions a sibling may feel include embarrassment, guilt, jealousy, anger, and fear. Check in regularly with your child. Encourage your child to talk honestly about their feelings with you. Validating and normalizing these emotions will allow the conversation to then focus on coping skills for these emotions.

Siblings of children with special needs learn a lot from their sibling and vice versa. This relationship builds compassion, service, and problem-solving. No parent has the ability to split time perfectly even between children. Ensuring siblings feel appreciated, included, and equally special will continue to build this relationship.

If you have additional questions or concerns about a sibling of a child with special needs, reach out to your school’s Youth First School Social Worker or school counselor for additional resources and support.

by Heather Miller, LCSW, June 12, 2018 –

“It’s probably normal. Every child goes through phases likes this. More than likely he’ll outgrow it.”

I was trying to reassure myself there was no reason for concern, but the growing pit in my stomach suggested otherwise.

By now I should know that, for me, having a child with special needs often means being at peace with the unexpected. Challenges arise, behaviors manifest, and at times progress is made without a clear understanding of why or how. For many parents this lack of control is difficult to accept.

When my child reached a plateau in progress I tried to determine how I could hit the play button and “un-pause” where we were.  It was time for me to do what I have suggested as a school social worker to many parents, to seek help and support.

From my experience, this is what I have found to be helpful:

  1. Friends – Raising a child with special needs can feel isolating at times. There’s uncertainty about what others think of your parenting, your child’s behavior, and why you may have to cancel at the last minute due to a meltdown.  Being honest about the challenges we face as well as what support I need has been helpful.  The website abilities.com suggests the following: “Try to remember that these people lack the context that we are constantly embedded in. Explain, teach, be patient, raise awareness…”  Friends want to help and be supportive but may need suggestions about how they can assist.
  2. Accountability Partners – As the parent of a special needs child, I know what I need to do but sometimes need a little push to follow through. Sharing next steps with one or two friends can help. I needed to look into services for my child, but making the call seemed overwhelming and made me feel vulnerable. Sharing these feelings with a couple of friends and asking that they follow up with me in a week made it feel more manageable. When asked, being able to say I had completed the first step made me feel accomplished and ready to move to the next step.
  3. Services – Once I decided I needed to get an outside perspective, the next step was determining where to seek help. I often refer parents to various organizations and agencies for services. If I hadn’t experienced this as part of my job, I would have been lost figuring out where to start.  If ever in a similar situation, please do not hesitate to call a Youth First School Social Worker at your child’s school. Recommendations for your specific need can be made; there is no need to guess.
  4. Perspective – Parents want what is best for their children, but every parent makes mistakes. Abilities.com suggests focusing on what you have done well and moving past the mistakes. Asking for help is not a sign of failure or poor parenting. It’s recognizing that some rough patches are rougher than others and require some help to smooth the path. After making the initial phone call for assistance for my child, I felt relief and a sense of pride.  I was giving my child the opportunity to be his best at this stage in his life.

I’ve now been on both sides of this experience as a service provider and a parent. My goal is the same in each role – to reduce stress and increase positive parent/child interaction.  Youth First School Social Workers in area schools are equipped to help you with this goal as well.