by Tara Zeller, MS, BCBA

When a family receives a diagnosis such as autism for their child, their world is turned upside down. This goes for any family with a special needs child. Learning that your child requires highly specialized support causes a family to seek answers to the questions they ask themselves – What is the best thing can I do to help them? What do they need from me? What will their future look like? The search for resources begins, as does the journey for the rest of their lives. They strive to gain as much knowledge and information as they can regarding the disorder, and the resources to aid their child. Children with autism, and other special needs, have to overcome hurdles that are often debilitating. Thankfully, resources exist to guide parents to the services and support they need. If your family also includes at least one sibling without high needs, then another question to ask is – How will this affect them? This article is focused on the siblings to children with high needs – the forgotten ones.

The guide below has suggestions for focusing on the often forgotten sibling:

  1. Get them involved in their siblings care. They may one day be their caregiver. Work on sibling relationships. Foster a desire to care for their high needs sibling. (I speak from experience).
  2. Ask them how they’re feeling! Seek out guidance for how to create the best scenario for ALL of your children. Ask them questions and answer their questions. Talk to them about their sibling’s disorder.
  3. Provide equal opportunities. Make sure you are providing the siblings just as many opportunities as you are with your sick and ailing child. It’s the typical siblings that I sometimes see being even more vulnerable because they are the key to our future and
    the future care of their high needs sibling. Typical siblings are often left to fend for themselves. In the modern world, there are resources for just about every affliction that children suffer from.
  4. Insist that typical siblings be included in therapies. OT, PT, Speech, ABA, Music, Therapy, Animal Therapy, Art Therapy, Horseback Riding, Specialty camps, walks – these things are at available for our high needs children. Their typical peers have to watch on the wings.
  5. Consider the sibling as a model. Teach them skills that you hope your other child will imitate. Have a sibling schedule a day. Often, sibling’s schedules are set around their diagnosed sibling. Make sure to center certain days around your typical kid.
  6. Keep your family involved in each other’s activities. Embed your high needs child into their sibling’s life AS MUCH as you embed their siblings into their life. Make adaptations as necessary.
  7. Spend one on one time with your forgotten one. Focus just as much of your attention on them!
  8. Don’t forget to nurture and encourage the sibling of your diagnosed child.

I encourage you to take this food for thought and incorporate some changes into your routine. I am speaking from a professional and personal standpoint. This article is not meant to detract from your struggles as a family with a high needs child. My aim is to create connections among family members.
Tara Zeller, MS, BCBA – Parent Coach with The AppleTree Connection – We provide parents, teachers and caregivers with the tools to create lasting change.