What Happens to the Siblings of a Special Needs Child

–by Sara Borgstede [read more from Sara, including the original version of this post, at her website The Holy Mess]

When my teen son, young adult daughter and I return home from a youth group meeting, my heart sinks when I see a police cruiser sitting in our driveway.

We walk into the living room to find an officer taking a report from my husband and son about a situation involving my son earlier that weekend.

I stay to join the discussion while my teens flee downstairs to their bedrooms.

My older kids don’t freak out or act shocked.

Situations like this have been a part of their world for years, because living with a brother with significant mental health issues is part of their everyday life.

The fact that they handle it so well bothers me more than if they had gotten upset.

I don’t want them to think this is no big deal.

As I watch them hurry to leave, I want to scream and cry and throw things. I want to lie on the ground and throw a ridiculous temper tantrum right there for them.

Since when is coming home to find the police in your living room okay?

It’s not okay, but here we are.

Our Special Needs

Special needs come in all shapes and sizes. Because we parent children with a background of early childhood trauma, mental health issues are part of our world.

I have called the police for my own child. Rages, outbursts, lying, stealing, and destruction are part of our normal.

For some special needs parents, hospital stays, tubes, doctor’s appointments, and middle of the night ER runs are their normal. Our youngest son has a metabolic genetic condition and we were foster parents to many medically fragile children, so I’ve lived in that world too.

I understand the extra weight of guilt parents carry for the siblings of our special needs kids.

We have 5 children. Our older three are our biological children and our younger two are adopted and have special needs. I would be lying if I said I loved all my children the same. I don’t love one more or less than the other, but there are differences.

My children who have emotional issues are hard to love. They hold up their negative behaviors like a shield, attempting to keep the world away from their bruised hearts. They don’t believe they are worthy oflove and they set about proving it on a daily basis.

“Too bad, I love you anyway,” is what we show them with our consistent love, support, and structure.

But this is not easy.

What Life is Like

In the middle of it all, here are these incredible, typical children who did not choose this life.

My older children leave countless events early, stay home, do without, lock down, and see their property destroyed.

They worry about their parents.

They know what it’s like to visit a sibling in the hospital and at an inpatient psychiatric facility.

They love fiercely, even if the love is not returned in the same way.

They measure out medicine, follow prescription diets, attend to wounds, and juggle life around doctor appointments.

They care for children that — quite frankly — many adults cannot handle.

They cook meals, do laundry, and clean the house.

They watch me advocate and know they are part of a team.

There are days I look at them and think — what I wouldn’t do to give you a normal childhood.

Other times, I’m not so sure.

What Happens to the Sibling of a Special Needs Child

As parents, we wonder what life will be like as we look down the road.

What will happen to the sibling of a special needs child?

  1. These experiences mold them. 

My older kids are 20, 18, and 14 years old as I write this, so while not fully grown, they are well on their way to adulthood.

They are amazing.

These young people of mine are hardworking, independent, and wise.

We want to give our children so much. Naturally we want to shield them from pain, but then how does growth happen?

Growth happens with challenge.

  1. Siblings of special needs kids grow up strong.

Sometimes they grow up hard, and at times we feel it’s too fast, but they are resilient. Children who have a special needs sibling are compassionate and wise.

These are kids I would hire for a job or choose as top picks to finish college (and do their own laundry while they are there). They know how to keep going when life gets tough.

They value family. For awhile I worried that my children would resent me for the type of life we have because it’s so different from many of their peers. Yet our kids have a strong family connection. They take care of their younger siblings and stay connected to us as their parents.

They know what they believe. They have already dodged some of the hard knocks that life punches. This is when values becomes not what our parents believed, but what we believe.

As a parent, what more could you want?



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