Having a child with special needs impacts family life in many ways. There can be extra financial and emotional stress. A Canadian study called PALS notes clearly that the mother in a family with a child who has a disability most often is required to adjust her work schedule to care for the special needs child. Finances and health are impacted, and so is marriage. But what about the siblings in families with special needs on deck?
There are many rewards to parenting children with special needs, but there are also undeniable challenges, emotionally, financially and physically. Where there are other children in the family they benefit from having been exposed to a different environment growing up and they sometimes grow into more compassionate children as well, but lots of days it might also feel like that they are getting less than the child with a disability.
Constant are the stresses on the siblings of special needs children as well. They are the ones whose time with parents is constantly interrupted by an ongoing series of doctor’s appointments, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and educational planning meetings. If life is hard for the parents of children with special needs, it can be every bit as hard for their siblings.
In fact, siblings are often the ones who end up being permanent guardians to a disabled brother or sister after parents pass away. In our family I have watched my older daughter evolve into a kinder, more caring and compassionate child as a result of our experience parenting her sister, Ainsley, who has complex mental and physical health needs. Payton is more patient and resourceful than many children her age. She is a compassionate teenager. But she is also sometimes one who seems to get less time with us.
When Payton was younger I looked for ways to spend time alone with her, to give her a break and to give her valuable one on one time too. We haven’t done that as much lately. Now that she is a teen, her schedule is busier than it ever was before. But regardless of that, there are still ways to connect one on one and over the years I have collected a few ideas of how to spend time with the siblings.
How to Honour the Other Child in a Special Needs Family.
- Manicures/ pedicures. Quiet time with Mom is a great option. I used to sneak my daughter out of school early occasionally just to do this.
- Special notes in her lunch.
- Take a walk alone. In the winter maybe the walk is inside a mall, or a trip to Build-A-Bear, or sharing a (lemonade for the younger ones) at a coffee shop. The key is indicating to her it’s our special time.
- Keep her out of school one afternoon. Call it a mental health day and go window shopping.
- Wake her up an hour after she has fallen asleep and take her out into the yard to sit and watch the stars on a beautiful summer night.
- Take her and her alone to the movies. Just for two.
- Kidnap lunch. Show up unexpectedly at your child’s school and sneak them off for lunch just with you.
Parenting special needs children is challenging and rewarding too. You have to work harder at everything some days. Sometimes that means working harder at being alone with your other son or daughter.