Siblings and Special Needs

Balancing the needs of siblings and special needs is really, really difficult. This is what I’ve learned. 

We spend a lot of time with my oldest son.

We spend a lot of time talking – trying to help him calm down, help him socially navigate tough situations, discussing his topic of interest.

We spend a lot of time worrying – if he can handle tomorrow’s play date with the weather so hot, if he will sleep tonight or be up for hours, if he will make it through dinner and eat something healthy.

We spend hours cleaning up – after horrible meltdowns, a lack of executive function in the kitchen making pretzels/sourdough bread starters/pickles/homemade cheese, food eaten in his room under the lycra sheets with the door shut because he just can’t eat with us at the table tonight.

We do this because he has autism, anxiety disorder and autoimmune diseases.

We do all this because we love him, just as he his, and because it is what he needs.

We do this because what choice do we have? We are living this life, one day at a time, trying to figure it all out.

We do all this knowing that his little brother, is watching and trying to understand.

special needs brothers

Siblings and Special Needs

It is, by far, the most the most challenging aspect of my mothering.

How do I help one, when the other also clearly needs me?

How do I balance so much need, and needs that often conflict with one another?

How I do cope with this everyday?

How do I make sure I am giving my less demanding child the attention, learning and presence he needs?


How Do I Balance The Needs Of My Special Needs Child With The Needs Of His Sibling?

I wish I could say that I have this all figured out. The truth is, I am much better at it now than I used to be.

It is just as true that I feel like I fail at it all the time. 

In an effort to help and hopefully encourage you that you are not alone in navigating this, here is how I am working to balance my boys’ needs, no matter what the diagnosis.

Have A Plan

I know this seems obvious, but hear me out. If I don’t intentionally plan for time with my less-demanding child, it simply does not happen. As a mom of a child with special needs, I frequently spend my days reacting to need. Reactivity makes it difficult to plan.

But if I take the time to think through specific times of day, or even days of the week, where I can grab one on one time with my other child, it is far more likely to actually happen.

Often, it means leaving my husband home with my oldest and heading to the library or ice cream for one on one time with my youngest. We do school work, talk and get a treat. It feels special and it accomplishes the basics.

Quality Not Quantity

I remember when I worked outside the home how hard it was to find pockets of one on one time with each of my children. Now that we have a diagnosis, it feels similar. 

What every one told me then, and what I try to remind myself of now, is that it matters far more that I am spending quality time learning and living with my kids than keeping a time card and trying to make it all even between them.

It will never be, and I have to believe that it’s OK.

We Are All In This Together

As much as I want to shield my child from the reality of his brother’s diagnosis, the truth is, it is simply not possible. Now that we are a few years into this, I can also honestly say I am not sure it is even preferable.

I remind myself all the time that God gave me my children for a reason and He does not make mistakes. This is also true for my boys. They are brothers for a reason and a purpose. God made me their mom and He made them brothers.

The good news is that studies show that siblings of children with special needs can actually develop positive characteristics as a result of the family dynamic.

These siblings often develop certain positive characteristics such as self-control, cooperation, empathy, tolerance, altruism, maturity, and responsibility as a result of dealing with their family situation. They may develop loyalty and a protective attitude towards their sibling. In some cases these siblings use someone’s attitude about special needs as a test for screening friends and mates. Their involvement with their sibling may even lead them to choose future occupations in the helping professions.Psychology Today


One Day, Week and even Month Does Not Make A Childhood

Now that we are several years post diagnosis, this is perhaps the most important advice I can offer – it does get easier. Special needs kiddos are just like typical kiddos. They grow, they learn, they develop, sometimes at a slower pace and in their own way, but always.

You will learn too. It will feel easier. You will figure out how to help your child with special needs and find a little more room to breathe. 

One season does not make an entire childhood. One year does not make a homeschool education. One tough month does not define who you are as a mom and the value you are adding to all of your children.

It gets easier and in the meantime, you do the best you can. We all do.


This post originally appeared on Not The Former Things in 2016.

For More Special Needs Motherhood Encouragement and Support:

The Pros And Cons Of Homeschooling A Struggling Learner

What Do I Do Now That My Child Has A Diagnosis?

The Constant Stress And Pressure Of Special Needs Moms


Similar Posts


  1. Love this! This topic has been on my heart and mind a lot this past year and I so appreciate this post! Thank you.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Gail.

Comments are closed.