Siblings of children with special needs

Brother and sisterHaving a child with special needs affects the whole family, including any siblings. Siblings are likely to experience feelings of loss and resentment when their brother or sister with special needs hogs a large part of parental time and attention.

As one mum admits: "It is difficult not to downgrade the others and treat our son with special needs as a priority." Or as another puts it: "Oh the bl**dy guilt." 

Siblings may be unable to talk to other people about their experiences, which can lead to feelings of isolation, particularly if you, their parent, don't always want to share details of their sibling's condition with them.

Your other children may have to help with chores more than children in other families, and may have more household responsibilities.

Talking honestly about your family situation with your children is important, but Mumsnetters' advice is to try to focus on the positives of being different, rather than the negatives.

On the glass half-full side, siblings of children with special needs may be more accepting of diversity than their peers, and may enjoy more independence.

"Siblings of children with special needs grow up faster and that is crap," acknowledges one mum. "But if they must, then they may as well get some of the benefits: we treat our son with a great level of trust as a direct result of him caring for his brother. He gets treats in terms of outings just with us and is given a lot of independence, because we feel that he has earned it."

The effects of growing up in a household that includes a special needs child are being recognised more and more, and there are sibling support groups providing information and contact with other people who get what it's like.

Sibs is one UK charity supporting people who grow up with a disabled brother or sister. Other organisations recognise a sibling's role as a young carer: the Carers National Association describes a young carer as "anyone under the age of 18 whose life is in some way restricted because of the need to take responsibility for the care of a person who is ill or has a disability", while organisations such as Young Carers offer online communities as well as information and support.


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