A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Siblings of kids with special needs: What you should know

Brother with special needs with his sister at the park - Siblings of children with special needs

Many resources are available to siblings of children with special needs.

Children with special needs generally require more attention, leading their siblings to feel left out. This can cause siblings to participate in attention-seeking behaviors.

When this happens, Dr. Robert Bullwinkel, pediatrician with Marshfield Clinic Health System, says a big reason for frustration is the sibling not understanding the care their sibling requires.

“It is important that parents involve the sibling as much as possible in the care of the sibling with special needs,” Bullwinkel said.

Once the sibling is involved in the care, they start to gain insight into why their brother or sister needs more care than they’d expect. By helping out with their sibling, your child also may develop valuable lessons for their future life.

“As the child grows up and their level of comfort dealing with an emotional or physical problem grows, their level of comfortability dealing with those things can create a great amount of resiliency,” Bullwinkel said. “It is possible they may turn that into a career in patient care.”

Bullwinkel also suggests you take time to talk with the sibling and make a point to spend time with them to help curb attention-seeking behaviors.

If these suggestions do not help, family counseling or respite care for your child with special needs may be additional options.

Additional resources

Many resources are available to siblings of children with special needs. “At Marshfield Clinic Health System, such programs include a program called SibShops,” said Kari Bluhm, Health System Child Life specialist.

Bluhm helps coordinate SibShops. This program provides special time for the sibling of a child with special needs to do fun activities. It also helps them realize there are other children like them  going through the same thing.

A SibShop typically includes fun activities, games and outlets for the siblings to discuss their feelings. Child life specialists and mentors are then able to help the children through the specific situations they are sharing.

“It is a time to hang out with friends who get them and get their situation and have a good time,” Bluhm said.

After a SibShop, the child life specialists also will inform you about your child’s concerns. This can aid your family in talking through issues.

SibShops are open for children who have siblings with special needs. The children must be between the ages of 5-12 years old. For a SibShop near you, go to siblingsupport.org.

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