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issues when one has special needs:
I my brother’s keeper?
between siblings is commonplace. Siblings vie for parental attention as well as
access to family resources such as the television, computer, telephone and so
on. However in families where there is a child with special needs the impact on
the other siblings can take on added proportions.
virtue of a child’s special needs, more attention and parental and family
resources are drawn to that child. This in and of itself can set the stage for
resentment or animosity with other siblings. Further, additional
responsibilities placed on the other siblings for the direct care of the one with
special needs can add to bad feelings. The other siblings may surface questioning
matters as, “Am I my brother’s keeper”?
the social work perspective, it is often cited that children should not take on
parental duties. When this does occur we refer to such children as “parentified”.
The connotation is negative and the concern is that the child may have
responsibilities beyond their ability to handle causing them to face ongoing
failure or, it may build resentment when their burdens feel greater than
observed in their friends.
truth is though that having a sibling with a special need can provide remarkable
opportunity for the other siblings to learn lessons in humanity. Far from the concern
for negative implications, positive outcomes include sensitivity to others and a
remarkable ability to contribute to the betterment of society be it at the local
community level on behalf of disadvantaged populations, or the larger community
through social action and social policy.
such, to be one’s brother’s keeper is not inherently bad or good. The
outcome will more likely depend on the temperament of the child and how the
needs of the child with special needs are managed in view of resources and the
needs of the other siblings. Strategies to facilitate the positive adjustment and
support of the other siblings include:
is nothing unreasonable about having expectations on siblings to
participate or help in the care of another sibling. This is a function of the
situation and a fact of their life. Emotional adjustment will in part depend on
how the situation is approached and managed. The above strategies can help.
Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
For information on Direnfeld's book, Raising Kids Without Raising Cane, click here.
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