Supporting Siblings

by Alexandra Lofton – Contributing Editor

I have experienced first hand the adversity, and the unpredictability, that comes with growing up alongside a sibling with special needs. Although there have been hard times, I also want to reflect on the positive moments that contributed to a happy childhood, and give parents some tips on how to promote a healthy dynamic throughout the entire family, especially with their typically-developing children.

When I reflect on my childhood, the biggest conflict that I personally faced was not being able to relate to my peers. I observed my friends living care-free lives, liberated of responsibility. I envied them; I wanted to turn off my worries and be just like them. Selfishly, when my friends would complain about their boyfriend drama, or their cheerleader skirts not fitting them perfectly, I wanted to scream. Their problems felt meaningless to the reality that I faced at home. Although I felt like an outsider at times, I am so thankful that my parents encouraged me to get involved in the community, and extracurricular activities. Being a part of a team is crucial for all kids; it promotes inclusivity, as well as provides children with a community. Being a part of a team gave me my own identity and gave me something to be proud of that was my very own. I encourage all parents to take a look at your typically-developing child’s interests, and get them involved.

On the other hand, there were times that I felt like an outsider at home. I had a tendency to feel that my problems were meaningless to the struggles that my parents and my younger brother were going through. It made me hold a lot of things in because I didn’t want to stress out my parents or come across as selfish.

Something that my parents implemented was having designated time for the family to get together. I suggest that your family set aside special time to bond as a family. Whether it be family game night, or sitting down for a meal, find something that your family enjoys, to promote inclusivity within the family. I also suggest taking time for each individual child, in order to get to know the person that they are growing into. Ask questions, and show an interest in their lives to make them feel validated and heard too.

Parents undergo a lot of stress due to the unknown. Siblings also feel this stress. Growing up, I remember feeling a constant worry because I did not fully understand the complexity of my brother’s disability. I had so many questions and wanted to know everything, so my fears would go away. Try to include your children in the care of your child with special needs. Answer their questions to your best ability, and if you are unable to answer, bring them along to doctors appointments, so they can ask questions too. Be honest with them even though you may want to protect them from the truth. In the long run it is better to have your children informed. You will be surprised with how resilient children can be, and they can provide you with a different perspective or solutions that you may not have thought of.

I wanted to leave you with a final takeaway; all children are different, not just your child with special needs. There is not a one-size fits all solution but taking note of each child, frequently checking in with meaningful conversation and having those close moments will go a long way. Your typically-developing children may not want to be seen as a burden and not open up very often but knowing you are there in full support will give them stability. Being the parent or friend of a special needs child/person will lead to unique and special moments. It’s important to include everyone as much as possible so that we can normalize the experience and give our special needs friends the opportunity to not feel isolated. People crave a sense of community and belonging. The insecurities you might feel about your special needs child may always be there but don’t hide them away–embrace it and those who come along for the ride as they will help feed your strength!

For our free 8 Tips to Nurture Sibling Relationships, download here.

2 thoughts on “Supporting Siblings”

  1. We are so very grateful to try to understand this unique perspective from a Special Needs’ sibling. The support and love speak well to the necessity of parent’s realization that each family member is Special,

  2. It is difficult for others to come close to understanding what it’s like for the siblings. Thank you for taking the time to use your voice for this.

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