We all want our children to play and get along, especially siblings, as they will be the ones who will be present throughout our lives. But what happens when one child requires more support or has greater needs than another? How we respond to questions, explain the differences and celebrate the uniqueness of us all in a family will have an influence on how children accept and relate to their sibling with different needs.
It is important to take a whole family approach to the needs and wants of parents and children in a family. Some siblings report that they develop positive qualities unique to having a sibling with different needs such as insight, empathy and independence while others find taking on an extra job as sibling of someone with special needs more difficult, feeling they always have to be the advocate or ‘good one’ to manage the extra stress on the family.
There are ways to broach the subject and have family discussions to ensure all have a voice, understand differences and are supportive with each other’s need:
- Disclosing the diagnosis in an age and developmentally appropriate way to the child affected and their siblings, close family and friends. This can set the stage for open and honest discussions about questions or issues that come up about differences, using books or online resources.
- Having family meetings to discuss upcoming events or implement approaches to help manage some of the required needs of a sibling. This way all can have a say, give suggestions and explore the impact on the family.
- Having family schedules and timetables up so that all family activities can be monitored and included. This will also include fun activities eg. family movie & pizza nights, holidays, or respite weekends.
- Making dates or times for each family member to feel special and choose an activity that they would like to do. Eg. having a name day to themselves, a beach or shopping day or a sibling day!
- Connecting older siblings into organisations, online supervised chat rooms and sibling days and camps. This can help them connect with others whose families are similar to their own and whom they share their stories with.
Some helpful organisations and books include:
Siblings Australia https://siblingsaustralia.org.au/
Association for Children with a Disability https://www.acd.org.au
Young Carers – https://youngcarersnetwork.com.au/
Livewire – www.livewire.org.au
Sibshops: Workshops for Siblings of Children with Special Needs, by Donald J. Meyer, Patricia F. Vadasy
Views from Our Shoes: Growing Up with a Brother or Sister with Special Needs by Donald Meye
Everybody is Different: A Book for Young People Who Have Brothers or Sisters with Autism by Fiona Bleach
This Is Me! I am who I’m meant to be!: Autism book for children, kids, boys, girls, toddlers, parents, teachers and caregivers by Amy Pflueger