Siblings and Autism: How Are Kids Affected by Special Needs Brothers and Sisters?

It's a question that not everyone asks or even thinks about, unless you are the parent to more than child and especially if you are a parent of a child with special needs and a child/children with no special needs.

How are your other children affected by your aspergers child?

An estimated five million "developing" Canadian children have siblings with some type of disorder (eg., ADHD, Austism Spectrum Disorder, Cerebral Palsy, Downs, Depression), and often these children can feel left out, pushed behind the parental wall while parents focus on the child with special needs, and left feeling empty, alone and un-loved.

When Trace was born, JJ was seven years old. He was so excited to have a little brother. Heck, he was excited just to have a sibling that belonged to him. He had dreams and plans, things he wanted to do with his brother, how he wanted to be a big brother and dreams for the future of their relationship.

Then we discovered Trace had Cerebral Palsy and Aspergers and everything changed.

So much focus was put on our baby to help him grow. The next three years our family spent time doing occupational therapy, physio, speech and about a million trips more than we wanted back and forth to Children's Hospital and Child Development. I remember those times, back then and how JJ felt.

His frustration and anger surrounded him like a cloud. Why we couldn't do things like before. Why his brother behaved certain ways -- hitting and biting him, yelling, whining all the time, freaking out over which blankets he could use, which shoes to wear. And like a typical kid, JJ announced his hurt feelings by name calling. Why is he retarded? Why is he so screwed up? Why can't he walk right or run without falling?

And then there was the wish that something was actually wrong with him as well, just so he could feel included. Of course I had to correct these thoughts and feelings immediately, not just because that is not how I want my son to feel about his brother, but about anyone who is dealing with any type of special need or disability in life.

Having a child without special needs and teaching them to cope with the disabilities of other family members isn't easy. There are ways you can teach them though to accept their siblings or parents for who they are.

Communication is key -- Always talking out your feelings (good or bad) as a family and having chat sessions weekly about what is going on with everyone, gripe about each other, get their feelings off their chest. This bridges the communication gap, but also allows for bad feelings to be heard without judgement and bitterness building.

Books or movies on the subject -- There are many forms of literature geared for kids and even movies that can help kids learn about the disabilities their sibling might have and how to cope or be supportive.

Community Services or Mental Health -- Check your local community services or Child and Youth Mental health services for programs geared for siblings and coping with disabilities. Many communities have great support systems or Sib Shops geared for kids that can help them learn understanding and coping skills.

Remember that as parents it's our job to make sure all our children are safe, happy, healthy and managing life. Having a child with special needs is not easy, not just for parents but for siblings as well. Society has views that aren't always nice, kids can be mean and teasing can make life difficult. But through positive parenting, communication and support -- your child will learn from you that a "Family that sticks together stays together" no matter what the circumstances are.

Happy Parenting!

Jodi & Corey Shaw |

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