Siblings of Children With Special Needs
Most brothers and sisters have problems at times. They disagree, they argue, and sometimes they don't even like each other. But at other times they enjoy sharing experiences and take pride in each other's accomplishments. Is it any different when one sibling has a disability? Here's what some kids have said:
I never get to do my own thing. I always have to keep quiet so I don't disturb my sister.
Sometimes I'm embarrassed when people stare at us when my brother has a meltdown in the supermarket.
Some kids on our block don't know my name. They know me as Suzy's sister.
I get mad when my brother gets all the attention. Sometimes I need help too.
On the other hand:
Sometimes I really feel sad when I think my sister isn't getting better. But then I think I'm lucky to have her.
My sister has times when she cries a lot and doesn't want to get out of bed. But then she's the best one on the debate team.
My brother always used to wreck my things, even though he didn't mean to. But Dad and I made a plan together for him to help me put stuff away when I ask him to.
All siblings experience rivalry off and on, but having a sibling with special needs is a special challenge. Parents and kids, however, report that it's manageable and even has some benefits.
Siblings of children with special needs may have special feelings
Many parents have to spend a great deal of their time attending to a child with special needs. As a result, the other children in the family may feel that their own needs have lower priority or they may have other worries. These reactions may be expressed in various ways. Some children and adolescents may:
- Feel alone or neglected or jealous about the extra attention given to a child with special needs
- Wish that they too had problems to get more attention
- Worry that the disability is contagious and that they might catch it
- Become overly helpful or noncompliant in an effort to gain approval
- Try to ease their parents' burden by not making demands or feeling guilty
- Feel guilty about their own good health
- Feel embarrassed or resent having to involve their sibling with neighborhood friends
- Be afraid to express negative feelings to avoid adding stress to the family
- Worry about the care and future of their sibling
Reprinted with the permission of the NYU Child Study Center. © NYU Child Study Center.
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