I think one of the many difficult things in having a child ... or, ahem, children ... with special needs is appropriately discussing their differences with their siblings. I remember wondering, "When is the right time to discuss Down syndrome with Mason?" I mean, we have always just talked openly about how the girls learn slower than he does, but as far as really getting to the core of the subject ... well, I just wasn't sure how to approach it.
So then, one day ... I just asked him, "Mason, do you know what Down syndrome is? Do you know that both of the girls have Down syndrome?" I was all feeling empowered, like we were going to have this big heart to heart ... and quite frankly, he could have cared less ... he was mostly interested in knowing when he could get back to his video game. This really was a lesson to me that it really doesn't matter what it is called ... he still loves his sisters the same. We still talk about it openly and I guess he will ask more questions when he is ready.
Last year I attended a conference in which I was able to hear Dr. Brian Skotko do a sibling workshop. I just came across this list of great tips to remember when dealing with siblings of a child with special needs, as written by Sue Levine and Dr. Skotko ...
1. Be open and honest, explaining Down syndrome as early as
possible. Encourage other children to ask questions; answer them on
their level as honestly as possible. But don’t wait for siblings to ask
questions. Bring up the topic routinely in conversation.
2. Allow brothers and sisters to express negative feelings.
Acknowledge the fact that sometimes it is hard to be a brother or sister to
someone with a disability And don’t expect siblings to be saints.
3. Recognize the difficult moments that brothers and sisters may be
experiencing. As brothers and sisters grow up, they often begin to
realize that not everyone in society shares their family’s beliefs and
values. Recognize situations that may be potentially embarrassing or
stressful and do what you can to help minimize the difficulty.
4. Limit caregiving responsibilities. Children need to be children. Allow
them to be brothers and sisters, rather than becoming an extra parent.
Your children with disabilities also benefit from having siblings rather than
a family full of parents.
5. Recognize the individuality and uniqueness of each child in the
family. Be sure to point out what makes your children special; they want
to know that you notice them, too. Celebrate their accomplishments and
schedule special time with each of your children.
6. Be fair. Listen to both sides of the story and be certain to make sure
each child has responsibilities appropriate to their level of ability
7. Take advantage of supports for siblings. Both local and national
groups have opportunities for siblings to meet each other. Such
experiences are often validating.
8. Encourage parents to access support for themselves. When parents
seek out support systems for themselves, they tend to be better equipped
for the journey.