By Julie Wales, Family & Special Needs Counsellor 
Growing up with a sibling with special needs can present unique challenges for children. It is important for parents and carers to provide support and resources for siblings to ensure they have the tools and coping strategies necessary to navigate these challenges. In this blog, I will explore the ways in which parents and carers can support siblings of children with special needs. 

1. Educate siblings about their sibling's special needs 

Providing education to siblings about their sibling's special needs can help them understand and accept their sibling's differences. This can be done through age-appropriate discussions, books, and videos. By understanding their sibling's special needs, siblings can develop empathy, patience, and a better understanding of how to interact with them. If the sibling is uncertain this raises their anxiety, so be honest. 

2. Inform the siblings’ school 

It is important that the siblings school know about their home situation and circumstances so that they can support if needed. It may be that school can access funding or are able to signpost to support. 

3. Spend quality one-to-one time with siblings 

Siblings of children with special needs may feel neglected or overlooked due to the extra attention their sibling requires. It is important to make time for one-to-one activities with siblings to show them that they are valued and loved. These activities can be as simple as reading a book or playing a game together. 

4. Provide emotional support 

Siblings of children with special needs may experience a range of emotions, including frustration, anger, and guilt. It is important to create a safe space where siblings can express their feelings without fear of judgment. Often siblings may be wary of parent’s reaction, and they may not want to upset you or stress you more. This can be done through open communication, active listening, and seeking support from a counsellor or trusted adult or family member if needed. 

5. Encourage siblings to participate in activities outside the home 

Participating in extracurricular activities such as sports, music, or art can provide siblings with a sense of independence and individuality. These activities can also help siblings develop friendships and social skills, which can be beneficial in all aspects of life. Check out what is available in your area. In Gloucestershire we have a Young Carers charity which is invaluable for siblings to attend their activities, day trips and provide time out. 

6. Provide respite care 

Caring for a child with special needs can be physically and emotionally exhausting. It is important for parents and carers to seek support which offers the family a break. It also allows parents and carers to spend quality time with siblings or pursue their own interests. Check out options with your local authority and learning disability team. 

7. Self-care 

7. Self-care is self-preservation and enables the parent to function better for the children and their families. It does not need to be exceptionally long. A 5-minute meditation or a 20-minute walk outside may be enough to recharge. I like the safety talk on the aeroplane talk when an adult is advised to “put your oxygen mask on first” so you can help children. This will support the siblings in your family as you will be more available to engage with them. 

8. Connect with other families 

Connecting with other families who have children with special needs can provide siblings with a sense of community and support. This can be done through support groups, online forums, or by attending events or conferences. There is nothing like the feeling when you know that the other parent really ‘gets it’ and you feel less alone or isolated. This will also boost the sibling watching by watching you modelling connection and self-care. 

9. Foster positive sibling relationships 

Encourage positive sibling relationships by celebrating each child's unique strengths and interests. Encourage siblings to work together and collaborate on activities. This can help foster a sense of teamwork and support. 
In conclusion, providing support to siblings of children with special needs is crucial for their overall well-being. By offering all the above, parents and carers can help siblings develop the tools and coping strategies necessary to navigate the unique challenges of having a sibling with special needs. They will develop into the most empathic human beings! 
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