Struggles of Special Needs Siblings

by ih-chi admin

Kids who grow up with a sibling with special needs may have more of a chance to develop amazing qualities like patience, kindness and compassion. But, they also have struggles. Sometimes they can feel overlooked (unintentionally) by parents and other family. Or, they may be singled out and called upon to ‘step up’ their responsibilities by caring for their brother or sister.

It’s a difficult struggle and can affect their mood and behavior. Here are five common concerns that siblings of special needs children often share:

  1. The need to be perfect. Some kids feel pressured that they can’t make a mistake or do something to cause any stress to their parents, who already have a lot of challenges they are facing with a special needs child.
  2. Inability to express their feelings. Siblings may hold back their own fears, frustrations, and emotions so as not to feel as a burden to their parents with additional concerns. They may also feel guilty for being the healthy child or embarrassed sometimes of their brother or sister’s disability. 
  3. Home has a lot of rules. Down time at home may look different in a family with a special needs child. Siblings may have to follow rules about loud noises, daily routines and schedules, and even toys and food that could be dangerous.
  4. Too many responsibilities. Even at a young age, other children are frequently expected to step up their role around the house with additional job and chose.
  5. Lost childhood. Siblings are often required to mentally mature quickly. The added responsibility in helping out and self-sufficiency regarding their own affairs can take a toll on a child.

To help siblings of a special needs child cope, parents are encouraged to give them regular one-on-one time, frequent days off from chores, and small rewards to let them know how helpful and appreciated they are to the family.

Check out these resources for additional help:

  • Texas Parent to Parent (TxP2P) is a resource for families with children who have disabilities, chronic illness, and/or special health care needs. Resources include parent mentors, advocacy and educational informational.
  • Sibling Support Project is a national program for brothers and sisters of people with special health, developmental, and mental health concerns. The website includes helpful books, workshops, online support group and other resources for children and adults. 
  • The National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY) offers a vast array of education material for parents, family members and siblings.