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Siblings of Kids with Special Needs

What's the upside of growing up with a sibling with special health or developmental needs?

Siblings of children with special needs have special needs themselves.  Their sister or brother with special needs will get a bigger share of attention.  While having a special needs sib presents challenges, it also comes with opportunities. Kids who grow up with a sibling with special health or developmental needs may have more of a chance to develop many good qualities, including:

What kinds of difficult feelings might a sibling have?

Your child may, at times, have trouble coping with being the sibling of a child with special needs. They may have many different and even conflicting feelings. For example, they may feel:

When parents tune in to the individual needs of each child in the family, they can help ease the difficulties.

What are the red flags, or signs that my child needs more help?

Sometimes the feelings can be so intense or disruptive, that a child may need professional counseling to help them cope. Meeting and talking with other kids going through the same thing can also be very helpful--even if it's just online. Below, you'll find resources to help your family find connections with other siblings going through similar things.

Talk to your doctor if you see any of these warning signs:

You can expect some degree of sibling rivalry, even when one child has an illness or developmental disability. But sometimes the rivalry crosses the line into abuse. If there is a chance the sibling relationship has become abusive, you should seek professional help. Talk to your health care provider about options.

Some possible signs of sibling abuse are:

What are some parenting tips for our family?

You can help your kids better understand what having a sibling with special needs means to your family, and you can also help your kids figure out constructive and appropriate ways to express their feelings and make sure their needs are met.

Caring for a child with special needs along with all the other demands of work and caring for the rest of the family can be very challenging. If the demands and the stress level are high in your family, it is difficult for everyone. Sometimes family counseling helps. You can also check out YourChild: Children with Chronic Conditions for tips on family coping.

What are some other sources of information and support?

Related pages on YourChild:

What are some recommended books on parenting siblings of kids with special needs?

What are some titles of books for kids about special siblings?

Sometimes reading a book with your child can open up a dialog about issues they are facing.  Check out some of these books and see if they help get your kids talking about their feelings and experiences.  Below are listed a few titles.  Many more books for kids and adults are listed in the Sibling Support Project Store.  

Written and compiled by Kyla Boyse, R.N.  Reviewed by Brenda Volling, Ph.D.

Updated July 2009

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