Siblings and the Special Needs Child

January 22, 2008 Kyron 7 Comments

Last night was rough. If you read the post on Structure you have some idea of the hellish chaos we had during the day. I’m here to tell you it continued in the evening. I’m not entirely surprised. It was a long and trying day. Katherine was challenged (and that’s polite) by this project for class. It’s beyond anything she’s ever done. Sometimes a challenge is a good thing. This much challenge….probably not. Hindsight being 20/20 I should have intervened with the teacher earlier. I most likely will because the balance of the project is likely to create similar results. But I digress….
sibling Siblings and the Special Needs Child
As all this chaos is going on I worry. Sure I worry that Katherine will break the door with the slamming, or hurt herself with the head banging. Yea, I worry that I’ll eventually lose my cool and blow up at her. But today what really stuck with me was how I worried about the impact all this chaos has on her brother, Donovan.

Donovan is 2 – just shy of 2 ½ actually. He’s at the age where you have tantrums anyway so of course I worry about what he might pick up to add to his repertoire. He’s an amateur compared with his sister and I’d like to keep it that way.

Mostly what I worry about though is how being the sibling of Katherine impacts him daily. Not everyday is hellish chaos. But everyday does seem to have some challenge or issue that sucks attention from Donovan. Right now I think being the younger child helps. If he had been first born he’d probably notice the fact that I get sucked away to deal with Katherine as a sudden deficit to him. I hope that right now at least he sees that as a normal part of life around here. As he gets older, I’m concerned he’ll have issues, even be resentful of some of the things that go on with Katherine around.

Maybe there’s something to be resentful of. Katherine does get a lot of attention and time. She requires it even when she isn’t in a tantrum.  I know that my husband and I work very hard to make sure that Donovan gets special time with each of us, either on weekends or during the day when Katherine is in school to balance this out. We also make sure that one of us is with him when the other of us is dealing with Katherine. I worry he’ll think I care more for Katherine than him because I spend so much time addressing her needs.

NICHY (National Information Center for Children & Youth with Disabilities)
has a great list which I hope to follow to lessen some of these concerns as he continues to age.

  • Limit the caregiving responsibilities of siblings
  • Schedule special time with the non-disabled sibling
  • Let siblings settle their own differences
  • Welcome other children and friends into the home
  • Praise all siblings
  • Involve all siblings in family events and decisions
  • Require the disabled child to do as much as possible for himself or herself
  • Recognize each child’s unique qualities and family contributions
  • Seek out sibling-related organizations such as the Sibling Support Project which is a national effort dedicated to the life-long concerns of brothers and sisters of people who have special health, developmental and/or mental health concerns.

While I have no question that he already deeply loves his sister, and I have no reason to believe that will change, I also believe that even the best sibling relationship is difficult. Adding the types of disabilities Donovan is going to be asked to deal with at such a young age…..all I have to do is think about how hard it is for me to deal with and I recognize how much more I’m asking of him. I hope I’m able to help him through it. I hope he’ll grow to appreciate the incredibly special opportunity he has as well.

I’m fairly new to this piece of the journey. I’d be interested in hearing what other parents have to say about the ways in which they handle sibling issues between their special needs and “typical” kids. Comment away!

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Currently there are "7 comments" on this Article:

  1. Don Meyer says:

    Sibs are an amazingly deserving community and share many, if not most, of the issues that parents of kids with special needs experience. Equally important, they’ll have the longest lasting relationship with the family member who has special needs–a relationship easily in excess of 65 years. Sibshops are great ways for school-age sibs to connect with their peers. You can find out more about Sibshops and where they may be found by visiting And here’s an article that adult siblings helped me write:

  2. Deana says:

    My son has an older half-sister, from my husband’s first marriage. While she loves her brother very much, there have been many rough spots, of jealousy and hurt feelings.

    We try to spend alone time with her, but it is also important for her to understand her brother’s medical condition, and limitations.

    We went through a stage of, “I wish I had a normal brother”, or “I wish Max wasn’t so much trouble.”. But we worked through those times by talking to her about how her brother might not ever be “normal”, but he was special the way he was, and we got to learn how to make our own “normal” with him.

    I think she does resent her brother at times for the attention he gets, compounded by the fact that she lives in another state from us, and only get to come on holidays from school. So when she is here, she wants all of the attention, and gets upset at her brother for acting up, or not being able to go places because of germs.

    But we try, and that is the best we can do. In our house we say that our Max was not a surprise to God. He knew exactly who He was giving him to, so He must have had a reason for each of us. And as long as Max is with us, we will do our best to give him the best life he can have.

  3. Kyron says:


    As I mention in the post, I think that the Sibling Support Project has some great information and workshops. I am so pleased you stopped by to share that information. I hope others will take the opportunity to read it.


  4. Kyron says:


    Thanks for sharing that! I think in some respects in our case having the sibling be the younger (and by quite a margin) helps some. At least for him this is the “normal” he knows. Katherine has another half-brother but he too lives in another state and she has not had much contact with him over the past few years because of the distance and her ability to travel. I often wonder how that relationship will be as they get older.


  5. Mike Hoitsma says:


    I have two older daughters ( 15, 13) and they worship the ground that their brother walks on, I don’t know which is easier having older children that are not affected by a disabilty of a yonger one that in unaffected. I do however agree that the other siblings need parent time as well. We tend to approach taking care of my son, which requires checking on him about every 20 mins. to ensure that he is not in doing aythingthing that he should not be doing as a family effort. Although he is for the most part non verbal, he is very clever and devious when he wants to get something (eating shaving cream is one of his favorites) this is what works for us but my children are older and understand that he requires ALOT of extra attention. My daughters and their friends are very involved when we do fundraisers for our local Autism Support group, and they are always promoting their brothers cause in their school. They have to a certain extent become young ambassadors for the Autism awareness cause.

    P.S. : They have also stated that if anyone ever calls their their brother a name or teases him in school they have his big sisters to deal with.

    – Mike

  6. Kyron says:


    Thanks so much for that perspective. It gives me great hope when I hear of siblings really backing their *special* siblings whether its against bullies or with working in causes that directly affect their sibling.

    For the record Mike and I went to HS together and I recently found him on Facebook! :) It’s great to be in contact with you again after all these years!

  7. Shelly Denise Moore says:

    I Have A 31 Yr. Old Daughter Who Has Had Years Of Medical And Other Issues, Anger, Speech, And Just General Frustration, Because People Could Not Understand her For THe First 15+ Yrs Of Her Life. I Have Been Unable To Have More Children. I Was Angry, And Depressed Many Times Because I Wanted More Children, And I Felt Gyped Because I Wanted To Experience raising A “Normal” Child. Well, Guess What? God Knew Exactly What He Was Doing When He Gave Me Trish! I Have Learned Sooooo Much And Been Blessed For 31 Years To Have Such A Wonderful Young Woman (Who Still Insists She Is A Teenager!!! ) She

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