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Parenting Special Needs Kids and Siblings

Parents and Siblings Have Needs Too

by Michelle Devon

I am the parent of a special needs child. My son is a loving 12 year old young man, who was born with a breathing disorder, has a hearing impairment, and has also been diagnosed with severe ADHD, mild OCD, and high impulsivity disorder.

My daughter, who is almost 19 years old, did not have these difficulties and struggles, but she was born with a congenital dislocated hip. When my son was a newborn, premature and having breathing problems, my daughter had to receive four major hip surgeries to repair the problem.

Raising two children, both of them with special needs at the time, and doing so as a single parent, was difficult at best. I have, however, learned that all children have their own special needs, even if the child does not have an illness or disability.

I was fortunate to find a wonderful hospital in Dallas, Texas, Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital, which offered me a tremendous amount of support and also had activities for my daughter and babysitting for my son so I could have those much needed breaks from responsibility.

As a parent, it is easy to be overcome with all the responsibilities being a parent brings, but as a parent of a special needs child, it doesn’t take long before those needs become the primary focus of your life. Neglecting to care for yourself actually makes you a less effective parent overall, so learning to make time for you is as important to caring for a special needs child as actually taking time for the child.

Another common problem for parents of special needs kids, when there are other siblings in the household, is making sure the other siblings without special needs do not feel neglected or ‘ordinary’ because they do not require the same type of attention.  Now that my daughter is older, we have talked about how she felt when my son was born and needed special care. She told me that the one thing she loved about me as her mom was how I made sure to let her know she too was a unique and special individual.

While many siblings may take a very active role in helping to care for the special needs sibling and even assist parents with day-to-day tasks, it is not surprising to find a sibling acting out in order to gain more of the parents’ attention when they feel neglected. When this happens, parents should pay special attention to what may be causing this change.

Seeking attention can often result in negative behavior that can easily be redirected by just spending a little one-on-one time with the child. It is important for parents of special needs children to schedule some ‘alone time’ with the other siblings in the family, without the special needs child.  This can be as simple as making the time for a routine of a special bedtime story just for them or even scheduling a weekly outing they can look forward to during the week, even for just an hour.

It is also very important that you schedule time to take care of yourself too.  Take advantage of respite care, babysitting services, or have a family member care for your special needs child. If the child is older and it is safe to do so, do not feel guilty about leaving them alone for a short time to take a break and maybe soak in a hot tub, read a book and relax, or take a long walk.

If finances are not an issue, schedule some time for yourself at a spa or gym. If you want to feel productive but also take a break from your special needs child’s responsibilities, enroll in a class or some special activity that is just for you. You will find yourself more refreshed and energized, and in general, you will be able to provide even better care for your children.

When parents take the time to make sure each child knows their needs will be met, the family can work together to support each other when a special needs child adds additional responsibilities to the family unit.  When parents make an effort to include all their children in the decisions and tasks for the family, as well as making time to spend with each child one-on-one, then all the children in the family will know that they are also special

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