Siblings of special children

Parentree-editors 2012-10-08 18:37:39

Siblings of special needs children have different and special needs themselves. There are many emotions, both pleasant and unpleasant, that they go through. Besides taking care of the physical and emotional needs of the developmentally affected child, it is equally important to take care of the psychological, social, emotional, spiritual needs of the unaffected child too. 

The grievances of the siblings of the special needs children: These siblings are often cocooned inside the shell of very conflicting emotions. They suffer in silence mostly, as they find it difficult to voice out their problems when the parents are already in so much of distress over the problems of the special needs child. However, it is very important to understand the siblings’ grievances to be fair to them, as well to avoid a bigger problem in later life. Some of their problems are:

  • Needs overshadowed: this is perhaps the biggest complaint of the unaffected sibling. He often feels that his needs are always given less priority. With parents much pressed for time, money and support system, his needs feel crushed under those of the special needs sibling.
  • Attention much less than deserved: he feels that the parents are always looking after the other sibling and that they do not have time for him at all. He often feels neglected and ignored.
  • Outings very restricted: with a sibling who cannot go out to many places, the unaffected child also has very limited outings. He doesn’t go to places like Water Park, jungle safari, movies etc, as the parents cannot take the affected sibling there.
  • Limited social relationships: the social relationship of a sibling of the special child is often very limited. His friends hesitate to come over and parents can’t drop him to various places either. He misses his friends’ birthday parties if there is no one to look after the sibling while the parents drive him to the venue. He himself cannot throw a party unless parents make sure that there is someone to look after the special child in question.
  • High expectations: many parents unconsciously try to compensate the loss of achievements of their affected child by pushing the other child to perform and achieve. The ‘normal’ sibling is expected to score, behave, understand, sacrifice and comfort the parents all the time.
  • Worries: the unaffected sibling often harbours an unconscious fear of losing the special needs brother/sister and might want to detach himself emotionally from the other child in order to save himself from the constant painful fear of loss. He also wonders if the illness or the disability is contagious and might want to refrain from any proximity either.
  • Developing symptoms: another conflicting emotion that the sibling might harbor is that of guilt. He feels guilty for being the ‘spared one’. He may develop some symptoms of the affected sibling with two unconscious purposes- one, to console the other child that he understands the pain and second, to get similar attention from parents.
  • No good time with parents: he finds it difficult to have intimate moments with parents as parents are always busy attending to the needs and demands of the child in distress. He doesn’t get their ‘stress-free’ time to discuss plans, problems or share his fantasies, fears etc.

Due to these problems that haunt him all the time, he may develop anxieties, phobias, aggressive behaviour, aloofness, learning disorders, depression and/or asocial tendencies.   Being the sibling of a special needs child is not all bad. It has a good side too. Such siblings are special in their own ways. They develop many virtues owing to the difficult times they have been through. The most important benefit of being such a special sibling is the development of positive attributes in personality like tolerance, patience, dependability, reliability, sensitivity, compassion, understanding and high maturity level.  

Guidelines for parents: While parenting a special need child is very taxing and stressful, you need to manage your time, money and energy if you have other kids too who are not affected by the illness or the disorder. Here’s what you can do:

  • Try to recognize and meet needs of all kids alike. In fact, from time to time, put the needs of the unaffected child on top priority.
  • Help the unaffected child develop good social relationships. Send the disabled child with the father to the park and invite over the other child’s friends to have a stress-free party at home.
  • While you may be very busy and preoccupied with the remediation of the special needs of one child, it is highly important to recognize, encourage and appreciate the academic, developmental, social achievements of the other kid too.
  • Get support system to manage the special needs kid at home while you get some personal time to take the other kid out to movies, shopping, zoo etc
  • Get support system to help the unaffected kid at home if the special needs child has to be taken to doctor for therapy or diagnosis, so that there is no unnecessary exposure to doctors, afflictions of other patients, radiations at hospitals etc.
  • Encourage the ‘normal’ child to talk about his feelings without any pressure and help him express grief, anger, jealousy in the experienced proportions. Accept his emotions and express your own mixed feelings too, in a language that he would understand. Suppressed emotions may lead to depression, psychosomatic problems, learning disabilities, aggression. So you can’t shove them under the carpet.

Written by Aanchal Agarwal, Aanchal is a psychotherapist, and founder of Confident Living. She specializes in child development and learning disabilities.


2012-10-14 16:03:07


i agree with Mridu and Neethi..parents of special needs children have it very takes a very strong heart, a determined mind and lots of respect for the child, to be able to parent such a child. i bow to you parents, for doing so much. but many times, the siblings of special needs children get ignored and neglected. i wanted to highlight their emotions through this write-up.

2012-10-12 20:18:15


I agree with mridu...Its difficult to get a support system...At times,I feel the need for a second child,but its all these fears which stop me... I feel i will not be able to devote time to the second one,due to my first childs condition...Its not easy for parents of special children,be it one,or two kids...difficulties ought to be there n we need to sail thru them!!

2012-10-12 19:28:44


it looks like story of my family..word by word..i feel so guilty to see my elder one suffering silently due to my younger one's condition..its not easy to have support system, even from one wants to take care of a difficult child.


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