Understanding Siblings of Children with Special Needs

‘I am a sibling of someone with special needs. I believe this is the best thing that has happened to me because now I see the world through the eyes of possibilities.’ – A very special needs resource. Interacting with parents and siblings with special needs has given the opportunity to observe the relationship and behaviour of the atypical child. It was inevitable but to notice constant comparison between the typical and atypical child by the parent, especially with regard to children with learning disabilities, although there have been several denials by the parent. It was observed that sibling older to the atypical child assumed the character of a parent by taking care of the individuals basic needs like feeding and dressing or dropping them off to school. It was also noticed that the older siblings have better understanding and look for external help for their brother or sister. With regard to the younger sibling of the atypical child, they are put in a state to mature and take responsibility at a very early stage. They tend to have frustration and jealousy in understanding the attention and condition of their older sibling. They shy away and feel embarrassed while introducing the sibling to their friends. There tends to be a constant conflict within the child creating anxiety and stress.

Catering to typical sibling with emotional and physical needs is very necessary. For siblings below 5, require constant attention, therefore one to one attention can be provided to help the child understand the condition of the atypical child. As they question about the atypical child’s ability, they can be briefed about the activities that can be or can’t be performed by the child. For age groups up to 12 , they have developed a clear understanding and can reason ‘why’ their brother or sister has a particular condition , encouraging  them to play and teach the atypical sibling will help in sibling bonding and inculcate a sense of responsibility. Also, the sibling is at a stage where he or she can explain to their friends about the condition of the atypical child. Looking at the downside of this age group, it could build in sibling rivalry, which can be managed by the parents by providing good amount of time to both children. For the typical teenager, they learn to and are expected to take responsibilities like a parent. Parents should understand not to pressurize the teenager while giving them their space with friends. This is also a time when the typical sibling start to worry about what next for their brother or sister, reassurance by parents and looking out for strategies to help atypical child proves helpful.

Constant struggles of typical children include having the need to be perfect, an expectation set by the parent as well, fear of expressing their feeling, misunderstanding parent’s or friend’s perspective, having to relate to a different kind of family or home when compared to that of their peers, lastly their problems being minimized to that of the parent or atypical sibling are just a few struggles to name.

 A typical sibling can be helped through support groups, expressing with the other sibling or parent ; finding help discussing similar issues and working towards it . The sibling need not be physical present with others, they can express through social media like what’s app , Facebook , instagram etc. and stay connected.


Aquilla Nancy Joseph 

Special educator 

Ishanya India Foundation


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