Having a special needs child can place challenges on parents, especially when there are normally developing siblings.
Special needs kids may require extra physical care and more of the parents’ time due to behavioral issues. Siblings of a special needs child can feel confused, embarrassed, and at times less important to their parents.
Parents should talk with the siblings of a special needs child starting at an early age. Using age appropriate language, explain the neurological difference to your children.
What Are Neurological Disorders?
All neurological disorders do damage to the brain, spinal column or nerves. Because of this, areas that control movement, speech, vision, hearing or thinking are affected, depending on where the damage has occurred.
The symptoms of neurological disorders can manifest in physical movement, cognitive development (thinking), emotional withdrawal or outbursts, or unusual behaviors. Some neurological disorders may have combinations of these symptoms. For example, cerebral palsy manifests symptoms that are more physical whereas ADHD has a pronounced effect on behavior.
Talking with Siblings During Different Stages of Their Development
Parents should explain the neurological disorder to siblings using appropriate language. Begin the conversation during the early years and continue to engage the siblings as they mature.
Children’s understanding and feelings towards their special needs sibling will change over time. Kids will be more comfortable around the child with the disorder if the kids know what the disability is, what to expect, and understand that they will not develop the same symptoms.
As parents lead these discussions, remind the siblings that God has created each of them differently. Read Psalm 139:13-16:
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.
Be prepared to discuss why God chose to create the special needs child. Focus on the positive aspects of having the privilege of special needs child, such as developing empathy, compassion, patience, and learning to love those who are different.
Parents can establish periodic family discussions to enable everyone to air feelings, positive and negative. The discussions can provide a place where children can talk about stresses such as peers, other people’s reactions, and feelings of inadequacy. The discussions will assure your children that it is fine to ask questions, and clarify any misinformation they may have.
Understanding and Discussing 2ith:
Children five and under: Young children are unable to express their feelings verbally and will act out through behavior. Children five and under are beginning to notice the difference, however they are not able to understand fully the unique needs of their sibling.
Elementary school age children: As children enter elementary school and observe their classmates, the siblings can become acutely aware of differences. Parents can explain the differences of the special needs child using correct terms.
It is important at this age to reassure your children that the disability is not “contagious.” Let the kids know it is normal to have some negative thoughts, however remind them that Jesus loves both their special needs sibling and loves them.
Adolescents: Pre-teens and teenagers are capable of in-depth discussion and explanations of the disability. At this age, parents should encourage the teenagers to ask questions, and provide specific answers. Parents should be understanding of the peer pressure teens experience and discuss how the teenager feels about having a sibling who is different.