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Sibling Support – When One is Differently Abled and One is Not

The support, services, and overall interactions with a child with a disability can be time consuming and challenging for parents. It can appear as though a parent is putting much more effort into that child than one who is typically developing, causing some confusion, frustration, and overall struggle for that kid. This child may feel neglected, which can often cause parents to see attention seeking behaviors surface. 

I would know – I grew up with an older sister with Down Syndrome. From personal experience, I was lucky to have parents that worked hard to split time equally – as best as they could – between my sister and myself. For many reasons (type of disability – physical or developmental, etc), parent involvement can vary. But one thing is for sure: all children need validation, love and attention. Here are some simple strategies to help parents be sure they are meeting the needs of their neurotypical child, even when much of their attention is on the sibling with the disability. 

  • When old enough, have meaningful conversations with your neurotypical child about his/her sibling. Explain in detail any diagnoses, services, challenges, etc. so that your child knows the level of effort needed from the parents and how it affects their everyday life. The more you are open with your child, the more likely they will ask questions and want to understand, so that they can mirror an appropriate level of care and support. 
  • Make sure each active parent can schedule 1:1 time with each child. This provides each one with that undivided attention every kid craves. During that 1:1 time, make the conversation and activity only for that child. Avoid conversations about other siblings, so as to allow the child to feel that they are the most important thing in that moment. This special time can be as little as 15 minutes on a given day – even the smallest bit of 1:1 attention promotes positive attention seeking behaviors. 
  • Model and teach your neurotypical child how to speak to and behave around their sibling. Use kind, calm language and exude patience, empathy, and understanding. Children are sponges and we want to teach them that being different is a strength and that they are the change agents in others seeing this.