How to support the special needs of special needs siblings
Siblings of children with special needs are often placed in a difficult position, but as parents, we can turn this around with a few simple acts of love each day.
Commit time to your child each day
Take a few minutes with your "typical" child each day. Five minutes of uninterrupted, focused attention with your child goes such a long way. If you're able, plan time once a week for just the two of you. Each week, I take our daughter out for a coffee date. I give her fifteen minutes of my undivided attention. I ask her questions about her day, how she's feeling, and if there's anything she would like to talk about. We love this time together, and I am amazed how much she grows week by week.
Listen to their thoughts, questions and feelings
Don't brush them aside. If your typical child has questions about their sibling with special needs, answer them. Recently, our son was having a difficult day. When he became visibly upset, our daughter said, "Mommy, sometimes he gets upset. But that's ok. He will feel better soon." I agreed with her assessment of the situation and asked her to share something that makes her feel upset. We talked about it for a few minutes and when her brother had calmed down, they hugged each other and ran off to go play. Value your child's thoughts, questions and feelings, and they will feel loved and valued.
Don't ask them to clean up after their special needs sibling
So often, siblings of special needs children are asked to do things their sibling can't or won't do. While everyone has different abilities, this can become a crutch for parents who may end up relying on their typical child to do more than, or to clean up after, their special needs sibling. While it may feel easier than to fight the battle over having the special needs child do it themselves, over time, it becomes "just the way things are," which is unfair to both children.
During a period of challenging behaviors, our son tossed some markers and paper on the floor of his room in protest. When his sister offered to clean them up, I thanked her for being so kind and told her that was not her responsibility. Though it took extra time and effort, our son cleaned up the markers and paper. Our daughter learned we do not expect her to clean up after her brother. Her brother learned he is responsible for cleaning up messes he makes and the morning ended in hugs and high fives.
Be loving and kind
Sounds simple, but I know how challenging it can feel when you're in the thick of it. I have three children and they are all very different from one another. Each has their own personality, quirks, passions, interests, behaviors, wants, and needs. They all have one family though, and the one thing I desire for them above all else is to feel wholly and completely loved.
Tell your children you love them. Be kind to them and tell them that they bring joy to your life. Be generous with your time and show them that you care. The simplest acts of love and kindness can truly change a life.