Siblings of Child with Special Needs

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The reality of being a sibling of a child who has special needs, unique needs, disabilities…however you prefer to say it.

The reality of Siblings of children with special needs is hard for most people to grasp if they have not been in that situation. Last summer, we dropped my oldest son off for camp and it was just myself, my husband, and the two girls for 3 days straight! This was a first for such an extended period of time. Yes, he has stayed with Grandpa while we took the girls and did things but not for an extended period of time.

So….what did we do?

We reconnected with the girls.

Siblings of Child with Special Needs

Effects of disabled child on siblings

There are so many different life experiences that our girls have because of having a sibling with special needs but the best thing of all is that their love for him runs so deep. So when it was just us we did things he can’t usually keep up with. We played games, visited several playgrounds and splash pads, found a fossil park, and dug out fossils. Then we walked around the riverfront for hours. We found ballparks, glow-in-the-dark mini-golf, and more playgrounds. Ice cream before bed and games before we crashed for the night.

We lived life, stayed busy, connected in ways we hadn’t before, and we loved our time together.

Siblings of Child with Special Needs

How does a child with a disability impact the family?

What challenges are common among families who have a disabled child?

The realities of having a sibling with disabilities and medical challenges are real, life is a little different. There are therapies and medical appointments, phone calls that take longer, and medicine alarms three times a day. Helping him to adapt to a world that does not always understand him nor does he always understand the situation. To our girls, this is ‘normal’ life, they don’t know any different. Their brother gets fatigued more easily. He can get overstimulated, so when he’s done with an activity he’s done. His muscles are weaker and that makes activities more challenging. He just processes the world a little differently. Their brother just can’t keep up with them. That’s reality.

Yet, they love him so much and for who he is.

Siblings of disabled child or siblings of child with special needs

I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I said there wasn’t conversation around the fact that he wouldn’t have made it all day with us going as we did. The girls brought it up, and we talked about it. There’s no hiding it and certainly not denying it.

It was important for us to have this conversation. The girls were able to express their thoughts and feelings, a chance for them to be heard. An even better chance for us as parents to hear them. Information for us to then take forward as we move through this life.

Pinterest.Part 1 Siblings Stick Together!

Siblings love:

They were so grateful for everything we did. At night they would ask how much longer until we picked him up from camp. They couldn’t wait to see their brother again.

These few days allowed us to connect to the girls differently than what usually happens in everyday life, and a great example of things to carry forward. They too have their unique needs as we’ve always known yet we had the opportunity to see them in a different light.

The worries and stresses were just different knowing that he was being taken care of for us. That he was loving and living life his way at camp.

We had no idea what to expect from these days with just our girls and we’re certain it will be a yearly thing and probably more. We all just see each other in a little bit different light and the love continues to grow.

siblings of child with special needs .

Questions we get asked:

What are some of the special needs faced by families of children with disabilities?

Families of children with disabilities face a unique set of challenges and special needs. All of these things on top of regular “life.” These challenges can be emotional, financial, logistical, or educational. A diagnosis impacts all areas of a family’s life. At times it can feel overwhelming.

How does having a special needs child affect siblings?

Having a special needs sibling can impact the family in many ways, as stated above. The best part is that siblings have an everlasting love for their siblings with special needs. As hard as the challenges maybe, if you give them the right perspective. It is such a joy to watch this relationship.

There are times where we aren’t able to help one of our daughters right away, or we may need them to help their brother. My husband and I divide and conquer many times to get him to therapies and them to their activities, so we don’t always get to see their activities also. We do our best and switch up who is going where so we can be involved with each of our children. The phone calls just tend to be longer and more. It takes time to get medicine ordered, it takes time to figure out what we want for his IEP, things just take more time.

This is a conversation that will continue for sure. I’m looking into the concept of “Glass Children” and would love to hear any of your experiences with your family.


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Wendy Andersen

Wendy Andersen, a wife and mother, was propelled into advocacy when her son's rare diagnosis reshaped her life in 2009. Today, she focuses on supporting families with children who challenge conventional norms, particularly with two of her three children diagnosed with autism. Wendy actively promotes inclusivity through her blogging on Redefine Normal, her roles on the Iowa Governor’s Council for Autism and her nonprofit, Dexter’s Dream, dedicated to creating inclusive spaces for all children.

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