a child with special needs requires maturity and skills scaling phenomenal
stature. While the focus is on the children with special needs, their siblings
are, advertently and inadvertently, under enormous pressure. Dr. V.
Jayanthini, Practicing Psychiatrist and Professor of Psychiatry at the Madras Medical College and HOD
of the Child Guidance Clinic at the Institute of Child Health and Hospital for
discusses with Medindia, the concerns, the attention and the approval involved
in caring for a sibling of a child with special need.
Q. What are the influences on a sibling of a child
with special need?
Several factors impact a sibling, such as the number of siblings, sex and age
of the children (sibling and the child with special need), the age difference
and which of the children is elder. External factors acting on the sibling
include, where the sibling is placed, where the child with special need is
placed, is a child with grandparents or is the child with special need in a
special school, the relationship between the parents, are the parents adoptive
or biological, is the family extended family or joint family and of course the
financial status of the family.
Q. How is the character of a sibling of a child with
special needs affected?
A. Influence on the sibling can be both positive
and negative. Negative impact on the character of the sibling includes
embarrassment about the child with special need, a sense of guilt of one's own
feelings and thoughts, feeling bad for the parents and the child with special
need, anxious about the future of the self, child with special need and
parents. So the sibling may turn out to be biased, angry, resentful, tends to
get sad and depressed thereby exhibiting withdrawal symptoms. Also, the
child with special needs gets more attention, which could lead to sibling
rivalry. When everyone looks at the child with special needs once again
embarrassment and guilt invades the sibling, who may not invite friends home.
Q. What are some of the positive impacts on the personality
of a sibling of a child with special need?
A. A sibling turns out to be compassionate,
displays an elevated degree of maturity, is more empathetic than sympathetic,
tolerance level is usually high and shows early maturity. Some kids are
by nature, kind, but siblings of children with special need become kind even if
not genetically. One has to understand that the relationship is of a
challenging nature, physically and mentally, such as taking a child with
special need to the toilet, worrying what will happen to the child, questions
regarding getting married, if one should get married, if yes then who will look
after the child after the sibling gets married. There have been cases where siblings have remained single.
Q. Sometimes siblings start to act like their siblings
with special need and even start resembling them. Why is that?
child resorts to regressive behaviour in this context. Modelling effect is usually seen in
small kids when the sibling starts imitating the child with special need. It is an attention seeking conduct,
if a child with special need urinates in the living room, the sibling wonders
why shouldn't I? If encouraged when the elders laugh at such behaviour, it
could have negative repercussions.
Q. When would a sibling need medical attention and how
do parents seek a medical practitioner's help?
over education, ripping books, oversleeping or under sleeping, constant
complaining of aches and pains, temper tantrums and violent behaviour towards a
child with special need are warning signs. Here the anger and aggression are of
a different nature. The sibling also suffers low self-esteem owing to the
expectations of the child, which in turn leads to withdrawal and difficulty in
socialisation. When a sibling expresses death wish, gets depressed, runs away
from home, parents have to first meet and discuss with the counsellor before
bringing in the sibling. The meeting between the sibling and the counsellor has
to be done carefully to avoid aggravating the condition of the sibling.
Time heals the hardships siblings of children
with special need face and, with supportive teachers and peer group, they get
better at handling themselves. In order to sensitise siblings, parents should
listen to their kids, discuss, assure them with positive reinforcement, and
offer timely, appropriate appreciation, irrespective of the measure of their
contribution. Positive affirmation instils a sense of responsibility and boosts
the self-esteem of the sibling. Involving kids in activities in special
schools; encouraged to participate in social activities such as sports,
libraries and outside activities can do wonders to a sibling. "Creating support
groups for parents and siblings of children with special needs and children
with special needs are some of the initiatives that need to be live. This will
spread awareness and promote acceptance offering a sense of confidence and
endorse self-help," concludes Dr. Jayanthini.