The matter of sibling involvement was a point brought up at a parent forum at PRAYATNA, Bengaluru. Parents are often overwhelmed by the problems exhibited by their special child that they fail to provide adequate attention to the siblings of such children. Ms. Arati Devaiah, a psychologist in Bengaluru, was a guest speaker at the forum and spoke about the significance of a sibling’s involvement in a child’s difficulties. Ms. Devaiah felt that explaining what the issue is to the sibling demystifies the problem for them. Getting the sibling to help a brother or sister with difficulties by reading to them or by assisting with homework is a good idea too.
Dr. Betty Osman, a psychologist in the US, writes, “Although studies are inconclusive in assessing the impact of learning disabilities (LD) on siblings, it is generally acknowledged that the presence of a child with LD in the family affects the social and emotional development of siblings.” Often, the sibling’s friends question them about their brother’s or sister’s poor academic performance. Equipped with knowledge of their sibling’s issues, children may tackle questions confidently and ward-off teasing or bullying that could arise in such situations. In addition, siblings who wait in the lobby while a child attends remedial classes can be a source of comfort and moral support. Also, some siblings miss out on their parents’ time and attention since the parents’ focus is on their child with a difficulty, they can become resentful and anxious. Involving siblings in matters assures them of their importance in the family and their parents’ love.
Here are some points to consider while dealing with the sibling of a child with learning difficulties:
• Explain in simple terms the difficulties your other child is facing.
• Acknowledge the concerns the child may express and clear doubts that may arise.
• It is okay for your child to have negative feelings or express negative thoughts about the sibling with a difficulty. But ensure you teach your child effective ways to deal with the same.
• Discuss ways in which your child could help and also respect their right to not want to.
• Do not put undue pressure on the typically developing child to perform well to ‘make up’ for the difficulties of their sibling.
• Let your child know he or she is loved and cared for as much as your child with a difficulty.
• Ensure you spend one-to-one time with each child.
• Recognise and praise the child’s individual talents.
• Do not burden your typically developing child with extra responsibilities.
• Allow professionals such as special educators or psychologists to talk to siblings if you are having trouble doing so.
With the right support and treatment, siblings can become the greatest advocates for children with learning difficulties
Osmon, B. How Learning Disabilities Affect a Child’s Siblings. http://www.greatschools.org. Retrieved 25 Sept, 2011, from http://www.greatschools.org/special-education/support/732-learning-disabilities-and-siblings.gs?page=1
(An edited version of this article first appeared in ‘In Sync with Kids’ at http://www.prayatna.org/blog)