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The Overlooked Needs When A Sibling Has Special Needs

Being someone who works in the field of children with special needs it’s hard to have a baby without thinking about the risks each and every day. While I am past the first stage my fears continue.

With my first pregnancy I thought about the risks all the time. It’s hard not to. With my last pregnancy not only did I think about all that could happen with my new baby, but I also spent a lot of time thinking about how it would affect my older daughter Maya who is now 3 years old.

Sibling relationships are most often the longest lasting relationships in a family. They will go on after we are gone. While the arrival of a new sibling can be difficult for any child this is especially true if the new baby has special needs.

Siblings of children with special needs require very special care and often do not get it. As a result they suffer the consequences.

Much research has been done on the impact on brothers and sisters when there is a child in the family with special needs.

These children often have feelings of loss and isolation. Parents will try to protect them and rarely share information with them. Parents try to talk about other topics not relating to the disabled child.

While this is done with good intentions it leaves the brother or sister with no one to talk to about his or her feelings or concerns. It almost feels taboo to them to bring it up.

Siblings often feel fearful that they could have caused the disability. While this is irrational it is common.

They also may be resentful when the child with a disability is able to act in a way that is not acceptable behavior for them. I also see a lot of embarrassed siblings in my waiting room. While they see certain behaviors all the time they still feel ashamed when they are in public settings.

Brothers and sisters also have care-giving demands that other children their age do not, especially sisters. In fact research has shown sisters spend more time caring for their disabled sibling than on their own activities.

While they feel a sense of duty and responsibility and take on tasks willingly, ultimately it is not a healthy scenario.

These brothers and sisters also feel pressure to over achieve whether it is in school or sports. It is apparent they are looking for extra attention.

It takes years before many parents of children with special needs realize how all the issues they have been facing are affecting their other children. Some parents never realize it. It’s hard to balance the needs of any siblings. This fact only magnifies when one of them has special needs. Parents are human, we are not perfect, and we often make wrong decisions.

While I seem to dwell on this, again I bring up communication. I can’t help it. It’s just how I think. While there is such a thing as TMI (Too Much Information) children need to be kept in the loop. It’s amazing what they can understand and how much it will help them make sense of their worlds.

While many parents miss the boat, there are many programs and groups available for siblings of children with special needs. In these groups siblings get to communicate their feelings and meet others who are in similar situations as them. Just talking can do wonders.

I tried hard to prepare Maya for her new baby brother. I told her on a daily basis that when her brother is born he will not be any fun. In fact all he will do is eat, poop, cry, poop, sleep, and poop some more. These conversations seemed to have prepared her well. In fact we have both gotten several laughs since he has come home from the hospital in regards to his current routine.

So as I always say, talk, talk, talk….they will listen.

About the author: Isa Marrs is the Founder and Executive Director of the Where I Can Be Me® social skills program. She is a board-certified speech-language pathologist who specializes in pragmatic language (social skills) disorders in children. She is an expert in the field who is frequently sought after by institutions and therapists to provide training for working with these and other disorders. Isa also served as a guest expert on Nickelodeon’s ParentsConnect.com, and has been quoted by numerous top media such as Disney’s BabyZone.com, LoveToKnow.com, and Univision. She can be reached at 914.488.5282