Giving Siblings Their Due
By Dan Coulter
Who do you love more, your child who has a condition such as Asperger Syndrome or autism -- or your child who doesn’t? Dumb question? It may not seem so dumb to a child who sees his or her parents devoting large amounts of time to a brother or sister with special needs.
If you sometimes find that you’re so focused on helping one child that your other children feel neglected or resentful, you’re not alone. Let me share some suggestions I’ve gathered from families in this situation about improving understanding and cooperation.
1. Talk with siblings early and often about a special needs child’s condition. Share appropriate information and explain what you’re doing to help that child and why it’s important. It’s easy to assume that typically developing kids know more than they do about a sibling’s special needs.
2. Listen to your children. If they have complaints or concerns, hear them out and show that you’re seriously considering what they say before you reply. If they have reasonable concerns, act on them. If their concerns aren’t reasonable, be patient and reassuring when you offer explanations. Consider holding both regular family meetings and individual conversations with each child.
3. Think of your child with special needs as a child first and a patient second. This helps him put his challenges in perspective, and helps you realistically balance his requirements with the needs of your other children.
4. Spend some regular one-on-one time with each child in your family doing something he or she enjoys. Even if one child’s condition requires more of your time than another’s, showing each child that he’s special to you can go a long way toward gaining his understanding.
5. Pour on the praise when one child helps another. Making a child feel good about helping can encourage a behavior to become a habit.
6. Give each of your children the freedom to develop their individual identities and pursue their own interests. It’s counterproductive to make siblings feel guilty when they want to do something by themselves at home or to spend some time alone with friends.
7. Find ways to give all your children roles in any therapies you do at home. If you can make therapy time fun, even better.
8. Seek out practical ways to include your special needs child in family activities, but don’t get trapped into believing you have to include every child in every activity. If a special needs child can’t sit quietly through a sibling’s piano recital, find a trusted sitter so the rest of the family can attend. A mother I spoke with recently talked about getting a sitter for her autistic son so that she, her husband and two neurotypical sons could occasionally eat out in a restaurant. This is a very caring family whose two older sons actively find things to do with their autistic younger brother. They’ve found a balance that’s healthy for everyone.
9. Seek out appropriate support groups. A support group focused on your child’s condition can offer information and camaraderie. A sibling support group can offer your neurotypical children the chance to interact with kids who understand their situation in ways other peers can’t.
10. If you’ve got serious sibling issues, individual or family counseling may offer solutions you might not think of on your own.
Making sure all your children feel loved and appreciated encourages your family to work as a team to support each other. And a team can accomplish more than one person. So, if caring for your special needs child seems to monopolize your time, consider that finding more ways to show your other children that they’re important could help ease the demands on you and improve the quality of life for every member of your family.
That’s the kind of win-win scenario we’re all looking for.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Dan Coulter is the producer of the DVDs, “Understanding Brothers and Sisters with Asperger Syndrome” and “Understanding Brothers and Sisters on the Autism Spectrum.” You can find more articles on his website: coultervideo.com.
Copyright 2008 Dan Coulter Used by Permission. All Rights Reserved.