Raising 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 Children, 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?
AdvertisementA. 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?
A. The 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?
A. Stress 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.