Three ways to help siblings of children with disabilities

Sponsored by Medina County Board of Developmental Disabilities

For many families, raising a child with a disability has challenges, not only for the child with the disability, but for their siblings as well. Siblings need to feel they are just as important as their brother or sister with a disability. They need to know the people in their lives care about them and understand what they are going through, too.

So, what can you do to help siblings of children with disabilities?

1. Talk about feelings – By talking, you send a message that it’s okay for a sibling to have varied feelings about their sibling with a disability. Encourage siblings to share their feelings and, most importantly, listen without judgment. Acknowledge their feelings by saying things like, “It sounds like you felt really sad about Max getting all the attention. It’s okay to feel sad.” Assure them it’s okay to ask for help with any feelings they have about their family.

2. Spend time with them – If a child with a disability needs extra time and care, sometimes it impacts the activities and quality time spent with their siblings. Spending quality time with siblings sends the message that they are important to you. It also gives you the chance to find out what is happening in their lives. Try planning one-on-one time with siblings and even let them choose the activities you do together. For example, “Hannah, I’m looking forward to spending time with you after school today. I thought we could do some drawing, or is there something you really want to do?”

3. Help them understand and connect to their brother or sister with a disability – A child’s understanding of disability varies depending on their own age. Some wonder, “Did I cause it?,” “Will it go away?,” or “Will I catch it?” It’s best to answer a child’s questions as honestly as possible in language they understand. For example, “Tom has cerebral palsy, which means the muscles in his legs work differently then you and me. He needs to use a wheelchair right now, but he has people helping his legs work better.” Encouraging a child to take part in a sibling’s therapy activities sometimes helps them better understand their sibling’s disability.

If you have questions or need additional help or resources, the Medina County Board of Developmental Disabilities is the community resource responsible for connecting, coordinating and funding services for individuals of all ages with developmental disabilities. We help with everything from early intervention and education opportunities for children to employment and community-inclusive living for adults. We are happy to help any family or community members get the information they need to support people with disabilities and their families. Call us at 330-725-7751 for more information.

Opinions and claims expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of ScripType Publishing.