Concerns of Siblings of Children with Special Needs

by Dec 17, 2020Special Needs Parenting0 comments

The concerns of siblings of children with special needs can be easily overlooked. This post explains what parents should do instead.

Concerns of siblings of children with special needs are often overlooked by parents overwhelmed by caregiving needs. In this post Jessica Temple, a clinical neuropsychologist and special needs parent, addresses sibling concerns head on.

Our oldest child began to exhibit aggression around the time his younger brother was born. He was later diagnosed with autism. We tried  to protect the new baby from being hit, pinched, smacked, but it wasn’t always possible. I felt guilty whenever something happened to the baby Now the kids are 2 and 4, and I feel guilty for other reasons. Such as focusing my attention on the sensory needs of older boy while coordinating and participating in therapies at the expense of time with his brother. This got me thinking. What do siblings of children with special needs need? How do they see things? What can we as parents do to better support typical siblings?  

Concerns of Siblings of Children with Special Needs

It is helpful to be aware of the concerns siblings of children with special needs may have. They see their parents spending time and effort on the child with special needs, and they see parents struggling to meet their own needs. They see the stress their parents are experiencing. This can make typical siblings strive for perfection so they won’t be an added burden to their parents. They become mini-adults to relieve the load on their parents. In some cases, parents ask siblings to help with the care of their sibling throughout the day. Some children are expected to be their siblings’ primary caretakers once they reach adulthood or their parents have passed away, without input about their wants, needs, and desires. 

They may believe they can’t share feelings common to special needs siblings like these:

  • Inadequate time with parents.
  • Their parents don’t care as much about them as they do the other child.
  • Anger or resentment toward the sibling who receives more attention. 
  • Embarrassed by the behavior of a special needs sibling.
  • Their parents brush off their problems or concerns. 
  • Isolated from friends because of their siblings’ behaviors or embarrassed when friends ask questions.

Even though their issues may appear small compared to those of the child with special needs, they are valid and important and should be approached as such. 

Managing Parental Expectations in Light of Sibling Concerns

Parents aren’t always aware of their expectations regarding their typically-developing children. Neither expectations are too low or too high are fair. It is important to set and convey realistic expectations of each child along with unconditional support. Parents also need to allow typical siblings to work through their feelings by implementing these practices:

  • Provide patience, understanding, time, and guidance. 
  • Validate their concerns. 
  • Model ways to cope and manage emotions. 
  • Allow them autonomy to choose how involved they want to be with their sibling, both on a day-to-day basis and in the future. 

It’s unfair to require the assistance and participation of typical siblings without involving them in the decision-making process. They have a right to their own lives.

Jessica will be back in a few weeks with more helpful strategies for parents who want to address the concerns of siblings of children with special needs.

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By Jessica Temple

Jessica Temple, PsyD, ABPP-CN, is a board-certified adult clinical neuropsychologist. She has two children who have special needs. She and her husband, Lewis, host a podcast called Thriving in The Midst of Chaos, where they talk about all aspects of special needs including getting a diagnosis and treatment, self-care, relationships, transitioning to adulthood, school, and finances. They created Thriving in The Midst of Chaos to offer support to others in the special needs world as well as to provide an easy way to find the most useful resources. They aim to share helpful resources with others, advocate for improvement, change in the special needs world, and offer a different perspective on parenting.    To find out more about how Jessica’s work can help you, contact her at or @midstofchaospod on all social media platforms.  


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Meet Jolene

Jolene Philo is a published author, speaker, wife, and mother of a son with special needs.



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