Support for Siblings of Children with Special Needs

By Dr. Hilya Delband

iStock_000012913016Small sister on boys shoulderSiblings of children with disabilities have a unique set of challenges which require the appropriate support and attention. Siblings may over-identify with the diagnosed child, feel embarrassed about behaviors exhibited by him or her, and feel guilt or shame with regard to the differences in abilities. Given the fact that siblings will be around and involved in the life of an individual with a disability for many years to come, potentially for the remainder of their lives, it behooves families and professionals to take a closer look at their needs.

Parents who have a child with a disability will likely struggle, despite their best efforts, to balance the time and attention required for this child with the needs of the typical sibling(s). The sibling may feel neglected and act out in order to obtain parents’ attention. Conversely, he or she may withdraw in an attempt to avoid being an additional burden on parents.

Siblings may also feel a sense of isolation from peers who are unable to relate to their circumstances. The limitations on parents’ time may result in siblings being unable to participate in all of the same events and activities as other families who do not have a special needs child.

If a child does not have sufficient developmentally appropriate information about the disability affecting their sibling, they may make up explanations that are worse than the truth, blaming themselves, or fearing being affected themselves. As children get older, they may worry about their role in the lives of their sibling and the amount of responsibility they will need to shoulder once parents are no longer capable of caring for a special needs child.

Given sufficient support, pertinent information and an appropriate level of involvement as a valued member of the affected child’s treatment team can promote the development of the sibling into a compassionate, insightful, loyal, and resilient individual. It is never too early to begin to think about how best to meet the needs of siblings and it is an investment that will benefit the entire family in both the short term and long-run.

Working With Autism, Inc. is pleased to be providing sibling support groups that aim to address these needs, including providing the information necessary to educate and empower siblings of children with special needs. Groups will run in collaboration with We Rock The Spectrum, Santa Clarita, starting this summer.

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