We often hear about the guilt that comes along with being the parent of a child with a disability or behavioral needs. When you also have children that are typically developing, that guilt increases if you feel like you aren’t spending enough time with them or giving more attention to your disabled child. Attending to their different needs is all about balance.

Everyone who has siblings can understand the ups and downs of sibling relationships, but building the relationship between a typically developing child and their sibling with a disability or disorder might take some more time and effort.

Talk to Them One-on-One About Their Sibling’s Disability

This conversation will change over time to be age appropriate, but it is okay to talk to your children about their sibling’s disability! You may not name the disability, or everything it requires, but you might explain why they need different things, or at times require more attention, etc. Ask open-ended questions like, “How can I make you feel less left out?” or, “What special time would you like to spend together?” or, “What differences do you see between how I treat (sibling) and you?” Yes, this might go to the gut, but the more you keep up with them, the better and healthier the relationship will be.

Use Attention Prevention and Play Together

Carve out one-on-one time for each child, as your schedule allows. Set up special bonding experiences with your typically developing child to ensure they feel seen. Also schedule intentional, fun time with your child with a disability outside of their typical therapies.

Something we love to implement during parent training is taking turns doing/playing “Everybody’s Choice!” Therapists will implement this first before handing it over to the parents. It’s as easy as it sounds – you take turns playing what each person wants to play, but we play by their rules, exactly how they want to play (within reason).

This way, everyone gets to feel special and gets the attention they want. It’s not always rainbows and butterflies – there’s a lot of grumbling and arm-crossing at first, but it is a great way to work through giving up control, getting to know someone else’s preferences and social skills, and tolerating divided attention.

Assist With Disagreements

Children with disabilities may need extra help building problem-solving skills. Diffuse negative situations early by teaching children to separate from one another to calm down and have them practice going to their “calm down” spots during conflict-free times. Make an effort to learn each child’s methods of communicating and help them develop those skills so they can use them to express their needs and understand each other. Once both/ all children are calm, then you can help them rationalize. If your learners are too young for this, once they are calm, you can redirect them to another play activity.

Look for Similarities

Seek out commonalities between your children and mention them often. Emphasizing their similarities, particularly those that involve a shared goal, will help remind them that they’re on the same team. Reward these wins by playing with them, adding excitement, and make sure they are followed by positive reinforcement!

A disabled child’s diagnosis can have an impact on family dynamics as a whole, not just on sibling interactions. Children who have their identities affirmed can be better understood by their families, peers and teachers, and support systems can be put in place to allow the child to flourish and thrive.

At Mindful Steps, we develop individualized treatment plans that work for your family’s unique needs and offer training, support and guidance to help you juggle multiple priorities. Our staff of professional and caring Board-Certified Behavior Analysts and Registered Behavior Technicians understand that all households have different dynamics, and we are dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve by providing compassionate behavioral intervention.

Through each of our treatment plans, we prioritize building positive relationships and rapport with our learners and families. We incorporate Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy into normal routines and use a play-based approach for young learners, along with other socially rewarding approaches for older learners.

To be successful with therapies, we believe that the entire family must be involved, but we prioritize self-care. We want to make sure we are taking care of YOU so that you can do your part in therapy. Through training, parents can help their children accomplish goals and practice skills outside of normal therapy sessions.

Our goal is to ensure that the treatment plan we implement is reasonable for the entire family. Everything is planned to be immersed into your natural environment. We strive to help caregivers use strategies that will allow them to find equal time for all members of their family, including themselves, while also decreasing emotional strain on the family.