HOW TO SUPPORT THE SIBLINGS OF YOUR CHILD WITH SPECIAL NEEDS?
“Please do not forget me! What about me? Are you listening to me? Do I have a voice? IT’S NOT FAIR! Everything revolves around him/her!”
The cries of a child. A call from siblings of children with developmental issues/special needs.
Indeed, having developmental issues or a disability is not only a challenge for those directly affected by it but also the family supporting the child. Being a parent of a special needs child can often be stressful and time consuming. Although parents mean well to lovingly look out for the needs of their special needs child, their siblings could possibly feel neglected where their needs seems as though of lower priority as compared to the more urgent needs of their sibling with special needs. They may face isolation at home where parental attention is prioritised towards the special needs child with multiple specialist appointments and home exercises, leaving very little time left for the other siblings or even the parent’s own self care. This situation can be challenging and causes family strain.
Every child is different. Each child's reaction to having a sibling with special needs will vary depending on his or her age and developmental level. It is often found that the responses and feelings of the sibling toward the sibling with special needs are not likely to be static. The feelings tend to change over time as the sibling adapts to having a brother or sister with special needs and copes with day-to-day realities. However, some common ways in which siblings may respond to the family’s situation is to act out, rebel and seek attention. Researchers have found that children with siblings with special needs are more likely to develop functional problems. To further add on to the situation, parents may be too consumed with taking care of their child with special needs that they may not notice problematic signs in their other child.
Often, imbalances in parental attention can lead to all sorts of consequences, from hostility and resentment to compensatory overachievement. Many siblings of children with special needs complain of feeling isolated and confused. The younger the child the more difficult it may be for him or her to understand the situation and to interpret events in a more realistic manner. Siblings of children with developmental issues may resent the time their parents give to the sibling with special needs and perceive it as rejection. They may wonder what is wrong with themselves that their parents seem to love and pay more attention to their sister or brother with special needs. During the early years, he or she may imitate the physical or behavioral actions of the child with special needs in hopes of receiving the some response or attention from parents. Later on, he or she may be prone to extremes of behavior such as "acting out" or becoming the "perfect" child. Becoming the ‘perfect’ child could mean that they may feel compelled to try to be perfect in order to compensate for the obvious imperfections of the special needs sibling. At some point, the typical child may feel shame or embarrassment at having a sibling who is perceived differently by others. As time passes, the sibling of a special needs child often worry they will be responsible for the long-term care of a disabled brother or sister.
What can then be done for the typical developing sibling during his or her growing up years? As parents, how do we then find the balance between giving attention and trying to deal with the different things to cope with. Having a child with special needs/developmental issues is challenging. However, it is inevitably important for parents to learn to balance the needs of the child with special needs and the needs of the other children for the better of the whole family dynamics in the long run.
Do not despise these small beginnings. The actions we take each day speaks more volume than our words for words are just mere words and children learn alot from what they see us do.
The following simple actions could be taken as a start to help your child:
Make a point to spend individual time with each of your children. Intentionally setting aside time alone to interact with each child in a way that means something to them is important. Even if it means only having five minutes a day, you are saying, ‘You are special to me’
Discuss their feelings about their special needs sibling
Ask what they need and want from you
Assure them of your love for them
Thank them for their understanding and help
Occasionally reward them for their help and good attitude
Periodically find someone to care for your special needs
Child and take the other sibling out on and individual ‘date’. It is important to create a protected individual space. The value of individual attention would definitely be greatly appreciated
At the end of the day, it’s about understanding and supporting one another as a family. In the hustle and bustle of trying to handle and cope with the day-to-day realities, it is also of utmost importance that parents take the time to love, understand, and respect each other too and protect their marriage. When children see parents backing each other up, they learn about supporting others as well. After all, it’s a journey of promise that two make together to walk together no matter what the circumstance may be. I guess the challenge is to love even though we might not understand why all these are happening to us. To love beyond reason. To commit to loving one another.