Having a child with physical, intellectual, emotional or behavioral differences from the norm can be taxing on a family. Raising a family, meeting everyone’s needs and keeping everyone happy is a challenge in the easiest of circumstances, all the more so with complications that, for siblings, might be seen as an unfair taking up of their time, attention and patience. At different points in the child’s development, she may feel embarrassed in front of peers, insofar as the non-standard sibling is concerned.
The first key to dealing with this situation is for you to understand your different children’s needs. Only then can you help your children to understand each others’ needs. You have a standard-range child(ren) who must understand the challenges that the exceptional child faces, as well as exceptional child(ren) who must try to understand the more typical child(ren)’s need for at least a minimum level of what they perceive as “normalcy”. To achieve this, you, as a parent, must map out both sides of the coin in your own mind.
With all that you, as a parent are dealing with, it’s sometimes hard to look around and see what others are seeing. Have talks with your kids. See what is really bothering them. Read a few stories written for kids their age, maybe some favorite Judy Blume or Beverly Cleary books from your own childhood will refresh your memories as to the trials of tween-hood.
Does your more normative child or children understand the challenges facing the exceptional child? Without painting that child negatively, tell the others of that child’s challenges and triumphs. That sibling wants love and attention, just as they as they all want and deserve. You’re all doing your best to make this work, but it requires understanding on all sides. Johnny doesn’t want to behave in a way that you find annoying and he’s doing his very best not to, but this is where we’re at right now. What else can we/he do to make this situation work better for you? Set realistic goals together.
It might be necessary to make time for family outings without your exceptional child. Utilize friends, family and respite centers if need be, for the good of the entire family. Minimalizing the pressure and conflict between siblings is of vital importance, both in the short and long term, so keep long-term family togetherness in mind. No child needs shortcomings (remind your children that we ALL have them) pointed out, and certainly not harped on. Do what you can to cut the cut-downs down to a minimum.
On the flip side is the exceptional child, who wants, needs and deserves to be loved and accepted by all members of his family. If this child expresses over-exuberance, loud or otherwise potentially “embarrassing” behavior, he might be able to keep it under wraps for limited periods of time. It can be explained to him (I’m talking mainly about ADD/ADHD and Autism spectrum behavior) that unfortunately, siblings’ friends don’t “get it” and don’t appreciate the beauty of differences. While the siblings love and appreciate him, unfortunately, society is generally short on patience.
If we could all just see the beauty of all of us, with our differences, we would all be enriched and become a better people.