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What to Do When Siblings of Children with Special Needs Act Out

A majority of families with children with disabilities will say that the bulk of their concentration and time is dedicated on their child with special needs. If your family is facing this, you are not alone. As a parent, you often feel torn into pieces all day long, with very little left to share among your other children. Consequently, it’s common for siblings in a household with a child with special needs to exhibit signs of emotional distress and they may struggle with behavioral issues.

The emotional and mental health concerns often originate from elements such as anger, jealousy, and stress. You in turn become frustrated, overwhelmed, and at a loss as to how to manage them in the home.
The following are some insights on how to recognize and meet the needs of siblings:
Seeking Attention
Attention seeking behaviors can stem from feelings of jealousy, however, insecurity and distrust may also have a great deal to do with this behavior in a child. Your child may not recognize that he or she is loved or even as visible in the household. This may be determined by what the child has learned to base love on. For example, your child may not feel loved if he connects love with the time you spend with him or the attention given to his sibling who has special needs. The attention seeking behaviors may be acts of desperation and may be a warning sign that there is a need within your child that is not being filled.
You will need to be as in tune with your other children in the home as you are with your child with special needs. Help your child recognize special things about himself, and be sensitive to his need for time or attention, as minimal as it might seem. It might be as simple as noticing something new or making a big deal over a small accomplishment.
Anger usually presents itself as aggression such as hitting, pinching, or kicking. However, it may be more covert in actions such as stealing, lying, manipulating, creating chaos or being argumentative. A child in the home where there is a sibling with a disability may resent the instability in the home, the barrage of care providers in and out, the stress you always seem to be under and how his life always seems to revolve around his sibling.
Allow your child time to openly and honestly talk about his feelings. Be sure to validate your child’s emotions as much as possible without tolerating inappropriate behavior. Your child needs to feel heard.
Siblings may show symptoms of depression without being actually clinically depressed. They may cultivate a feeling of helplessness, especially if their siblings with special needs are aggressive toward them or other family members or if the home is in constant crisis. They may feel isolated from peers or because you, as a parent, are isolated.
It is important to try to pinpoint and address your child’s needs as early as possible. If he starts to show signs of extended sadness, hopelessness, or any signs of depression, you should seek professional intervention. Acknowledge the experiences that added to your child’s pain and learn how to be his advocate as well.
The root of this emotion is often insecurity. If your child does not know or understand his place in the home, anxiety and low self-esteem may develop. Sometimes a sibling’s needs just blend into the background with the endless therapies, providers or crisis your household undertakes. Your other children may be set safely off to the side and assumed “okay” and gratefully so. However, they may receive the message that they aren’t as special or that their needs do not matter.
Be aware of the messages you are sending to your other children in the home, especially when the emphasis circles around the needs of the child with a disability. It is important that a sibling has something that makes him special to himself and to you as the parent. He needs to be acknowledged and quality time needs to be spent just with him once in awhile.
As always, if you feel overwhelmed and you need help, please contact us.
American Advocacy group is on the front lines every day, making positive change happen for people diagnosed with Autism, Down syndrome and a range of diagnoses across the continuum. As a leading advocate for all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families, and the premier provider of the support and services people want and need, we understand the system and know how to take action in regard to your best interests.
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