Source: Indys Child Parenting Magazine

Helping Siblings of Special Needs Children
Children with special needs aren't the only ones with needs

by Angela Arlington

July 01, 2012

Parents of special needs children spend a lot of time focused on the child with special needs rather than equally on all of their children. So what can they do to help the siblings of the child? From spending time with the sibling, finding support groups where the sibling can connect with other children in similar situations, and giving them resources like books to help them understand their unique family, parents have a variety of tools to help all of their children.

One-On-One Time

Spending one-on-one time with the sibling is extremely important, it allows time for the sibling to get individual attention from the parent.

The time should be spent doing something the child enjoys and can do with the parent on a daily basis. It could be doing homework together or watching a favorite television show together for 30 minutes each night before bed.

The child should be allowed to do activities without having the other sibling involved that showcases his or her own talent and allows for self-esteem building. Sports, art classes, and boy or girl scouts are a few examples of activities that the child can do to explore what his or her talents are as an individual.

Becky Cash, mother of 6 kids, 4 of whom have special needs, knows how precious time spent individually with her kids means to each one of them. “My son is now a Boy Scout, so dad is going on camping trips with him. Really, it is more about the time they get with us, not where we go.”


Sibshops are a special type of support group led by professionally trained leaders for children with siblings with special needs.

Katy Messuri MSW, a facilitator at Easter Seals Crossroads explains, “Sibshops are best described as opportunities for brothers and sisters of children with special health, mental health, and developmental needs to obtain peer support and education within a recreational context. Sibshops acknowledge that being the brother or sister of a person with special needs is for some a good thing, for others a not-so-good thing, and for many something in between.”

It is important for the sibling to know that he or she is not alone in the feelings towards the sibling with special needs—good and bad. Riley Children’s Hospital, Easter Seals Crossroads, Noble of Indiana, and Damar are all organizations that have sibshops held at different times of the year.

Below are some goals from the Sibshops model: (for more information

Goal 1: Provide brothers and sisters of children with special needs an opportunity to meet other siblings in a relaxed, recreational setting.

Goal 2: Provide brothers and sisters with opportunities to discuss common joys and concerns with other siblings of children with special needs.

Goal 3: Provide siblings with an opportunity to learn how others handle situations commonly experienced by siblings of children with special needs.

Goal 4: Provide siblings with an opportunity to learn more about the implications of their sibling's special needs.

Goal 5: Provide parents and other professionals with opportunities to learn more about the concerns and opportunities frequently experienced by brothers and sisters of people with special needs.

Books for Siblings and Parents

Books help children find the questions they have for their parents. They also help the sibling understand that other children have gone through this and can share his or her stories with others. There are a variety of books written for all ages of children and books written for adults as well—this is just a short list of recommended books to read:

For Children

A Real Christmas This Year by Karen Williams

Ben, King of the River by David Gifaldi

Fasten Your Seatbelt: A Crash Course on Down Syndrome for Brothers and Sisters by Brian Skotko and Susan Levine

I love my brother: A preschooler’s view of living with a brother who has autism by C. Stratham

My Brother’s a World Class Pain by M Gordon

My Brother, Matthew by Mary Thompson

My Sister Annie by Bill Dodds

Sara’s Secret by Suzanne Wanous

For Parents

Brothers, Sisters, and special needs; Information and activities for helping young siblings of children with chronic illnesses and developmental disabilities by DJ Lobato

Growing Up With a Chronic Disease by Christine Eiser

It Isn’t Fair edited by Stanley Klein and Maxwell Schleifer

Siblings of Children with Autism- A Guide for Parents by Sanda Harris

Special Children Challenged Parents by Robert Naseef