What About the Others?

One of the toughest things about parenting more than one child when one child has a disability is finding a way to meet all of their needs without losing yourself.  So much has changed to help the person with a disability and their parents.  However, what has changed to help the siblings of the child with disabilities?  Not much.  In fact, some of these seemingly positive changes may make the sibling’s life even more complicated.

Siblings of children with special needs are:

-More likely to be internalizers.  They often experience anxiety, stress and depression.  They internalize their own needs avoid placing another challenge on their parent’s plate.

-Responsible.  Sometimes they become more responsible than any child should have to be.  I remember when my children were young…although I didn’t actually do it, I often said that my 7 year old would be a better babysitter than most adults.

-Often neglected.  Let’s face it, sometimes our kids with special needs take every ounce of energy and all of our time.  Those other little people, although we love them so much, just have to do without us sometimes.  And…that sucks.

-Scared and Uninformed.  As parents, we forget that our children hear and see things.  We forget that we should include them in conversation and discussion.  We forget that they may only hear or understand part of what is going on around them.  They may be scared over what’s happening.  They may feel lost and confused.

This road is tough for parents, but also for the other children in the family.  We feel guilt at not being able to meet all of our children’s needs which adds even more stress.  More stress means more feelings of inadequacy.  So, what can we do to stop the cycle?

First of all, lighten up on yourself.  This isn’t easy, your children know you love them and as they get older, they will understand.  But, while they are young, keep these ideas in mind:

  1.  Seek out local support groups specifically designed for siblings of adults with disabilities.
  2. Find ways to squeeze in a little one on one time with each sibling.  Maybe that’s reading a book or playing a game while your other child is in a therapy session.  Maybe that means getting a babysitter for a couple of hours and going to dinner once a month with your other child(ren).  Maybe it’s (I may get slammed for this one!) keeping your other children home from school for one special day with mom.  I use to keep my daughter home for educational days.  I told the principal exactly what I was doing.  We took the train into the city and toured a museum or sometimes just stayed at home, one time we went to see the president as he came through town.
  3. Be mindful of your other children’s needs.  Talk openly about those needs and let them know their fears, challenges and emotions are valid and that you are never too tired or busy to hear about them AND put your money where your mouth is.
  4. Have a secret journal.  Sometimes the waking hours are hard.  Have a journal that’s just between you and your child.  They can ask you questions or share their thoughts in the journal, slip it under your pillow and you can respond and slip it under theirs.  It’s something private and special just between the two of you.
  5. Encourage their interests.  Find a class or group and make an effort to get to each session even if your child with special needs is disagreeable or hard to manage.  Your child will see your efforts and understand how important they also are to you.  Note:  make sure your child without a disability does not take on guilt because this may be a rough time.

I know you are spread thin…so does your family.  We have a responsibility as parents to care for all of our children, physically and emotionally, and the guilt we feel when we don’t, is very real.  I hope these tips give you some ideas to help you with the guilt and help your other children feel as loved and I know they are.

Peaceful vibes.


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Disclaimer:  There are exceptions to every rule.  Children and adults with disabilities are people with their own individual needs and desires.  The ideas and advice given in this blog are for your consideration only and should not be taken as legal, medical or educational advice, as every single situation is different.


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