Caring for the siblings of a child with special needs

Parenting a child with delays or disabilities has its challenges, and so does parenting his siblings.

My post last week revealed research that indicates that the brothers and sisters of a child with disabilities may have unique issues and stressors. It’s not easy growing up with a sibling that needs so much attention. Parents try to do their best – but octopusoften end up feeling like an octopus without enough tentacles. Not to mention the stress of holding the rest of your life together (job, food shopping, errands, housework, cooking, laundry, etc.).  Making sure the sibs of your special needs child are doing okay may not be at the top of your to-do list. I get it. Whether your special needs child is a baby, toddler or older, here are some tips so that your “typical kids” don’t fall through the cracks.

The Center for Parent Information Resources (CPIR) has all sorts of great info on sibling care. Included are topics such as “What Siblings Would Like Parents and Service Providers to Know” and “What About Me? – Support for the Siblings of Disabled Children.” They also offer info on sibling support groups which might be helpful. (This information came from the now defunct NICHCY website.)

Experts recommend talking with your typical children about disability – “it is important for you to take time to talk openly about your child’s disability with your other children, explaining it as best you can in terms that are appropriate to each child’s developmental level.”

Here are tips that worked for me and some parents I know:

• Tag teaming – try to find a friend or relative that can take care of your child with a disability so that you can spend some time with your other children. You then do the same for your friend’s children.

• Snippets of time – you may not need to spend 3 hours of 1:1 time with your non-disabled child if you just spent 3 hours with your child with a disability. Often just 20 minutes of uninterrupted 1:1 time is enough for your little one to keep him feeling included. Try to grab snippets of time whenever you can.

But don’t forget about you

In another post in this series, I gave tips on how to care for YOU – the parents. See Caring for the caretaker – put on your oxygen mask. You’ll learn tips on how to keep yourself in check so that you can do the best job in your role as parent, spouse, childcare coordinator, project manager, file keeper, advocate, chauffeur, cook, cleaner, worker, and giver and receiver of hugs and kisses from your little ones!

Remember, you need to take care of YOU to take care of them.

Note: This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child.  Check out the Table of Contents to view all of the blog posts to date. As always, we welcome your comments and suggestions for future topics.

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Updated November 2016.