Thursday, January 22, 2015

Group therapy: Having another kid after a child with special needs

"The big news is that M. is going to be a big sister," wrote an online friend whose child, like Max, had a stroke. "I'm due in spring and they're monitoring the baby closely. We're excited, but anxious, which leads me to my question: What are some good methods to make sure neither kid is being neglected? During the newborn phase, I don't want M. to feel left out. And as the new baby gets older and realizes how much extra help M. needs/gets, I'm scared of that child feeling shoved to the side. Any advice would be welcomed."

I get worrying about what the future holds (boy, do I get it). But as I told my friend, "You will figure it out as you go along, same as you've figured out parenting a kid with special needs." Besides, it's impossible to know what a kid's reactions will be to a new sibling—or how that sibling will ultimately feel about having a brother or sister with special needs.

When Sabrina was born, Max was 25 months old. He was never jealous of her, possibly because at first he thought she was a toy doll. He liked sitting beside me when I nursed her. He got his own special cuddle time, and I did my best to stick with his usual bedtime TLC. Keeping routines in place really helped Max through the newborn cry-eat-poop-nap-cry chaos, I think. Besides, given that Max still needed plenty of his own care at that age, one of us was always dressing him, playing with him, feeding, bathing him, changing him, you name it. He was the opposite of neglected! He also got lots of love from my mom and sister, who regularly visited. 

Eventually, Dave and I each started doing activities alone with Sabrina to give her extra attention. Last weekend, she and Dave went skiing for the day. In a couple of months, I'm taking her to an Alvin Ailey dance performance. And when Max has a weekend program, the three of us have brunch. We discuss Sabrina's feelings about Max; we want her to speak up if she's ever feeling resentful. (She's currently reading Out of My Mind, a book about a girl with cerebral palsy, and it's sparked a lot of good conversation.) Plus we've enrolled her in workshops for siblings of kids with special needs, including ones run by SibShops.

Honestly, juggling both kids' needs over the years has been relatively easy compared to what I went through after Max was born. I've often felt nothing will ever be as challenging as that time in my life. So, my friend, I'll say it again: You've got this.

Do you have suggestions to help allay this mom's concerns?


  1. Out of My Mind! I love that book! I also recommend Rules by Cynthia Lord and Rain Reign by Ann M Martin. Rules is about a girl(11ish I think) who has a younger brother with autism plus Cynthia Lord has a son with autism. Rain Reign is a newer book by my favorite author told from the perspective of an 11 year old girl with High Functioning Autism. Caution: One of the main storylines is a hurricane based on Hurricane Sandy and I know that hit where you live. Also poor parenting(drinking) depicted.

  2. So glad Sabrina is getting to go to Sibshops! As someone who attended Sibshops throughout my entire childhood, who then volunteered, and now is a trained facilitator, I am a HUGE advocate for siblings getting out to meet other siblings. They just "get it" like nobody else!

  3. This is one of my big fears. My daughter's health has stabilized some--enough that a sibling is something we can consider. But it absolutely terrified me...both fearing a repeat of some of her challenges that come from a presumed but unknown second challenge and also for her health declining again and changing my ability to care for another child. I know on some level that there is always room for another person in a living family. But it is so helpful to hear the experiences of others--especially sibs--and the support out there for kids who have siblings with special needs and/ or who are medically fragile.

    1. My story is a little different. My daughter's pediatrician suggested she may have autism the month before I gave birth to her brother. One reason we decided not to have a third child was the fear that we may have a child with more severe problems that we simply couldn't handle (my son does not have it). Sometimes, I wonder if we would have never had a second child if we knew way before I became pregnant, but I'm glad we did and also think that maybe we should have just went for the third.

      My daughter's autism has been manageable thankfully, and the therapy and her school program have been the keys as well as the wonderful people I've met through her challenges like other parents, professionals, etc. Of course, we've had problems, but we got through them just like any other family issues that come up.

      One of the best things we had for her, though, has been her brother. He's the best socialization tool for her! They interact a great deal (better than we do with her sometimes), and while they do fight, it's so typical of siblings with their age difference (3 years) and gender mix that you'd never know one has special needs.

      One thing we did decide was to put the kids in two different schools, instead of at the same. Our daughter went to an elementary school across town because that was where the program was, but we decided that our son needed to be at his home school and basically have his own life. They both have their own individual activities and friends, but they also share some friends. She met twin boys who she has been friends with since kindergarten; they have a typical brother who is friends with my son which is great because they understand each other. And he met a boy in his grade who has a brother with autism, so they could relate. I've never heard my son say he wishes he didn't have a sister because of her autism -- it's more like your typical sister-brother combos where they annoy each other. I have faith that they'll grow out of it and be close -- I see it every so often when they really look like they're enjoying each others' company.

  4. My kids came in a different order -- healthy child first and medically complicated child second -- and some of the same great strategies you mention above apply. We always have done things like take her out alone, give her the space to talk about her fears and her frustrations, and make sure she knows that her needs are just as important as her sister's. Just always being honest with both children -- to the degree that their developmental abilities/age allows -- has been our policy. I agree with Hillary that there is always room for another person in a loving family!

  5. I'm a second child and the independent one. My parents leave me at school so my resource teacher can deal with me. I don't mind.

  6. Right after my littlest was born, and Sammie was adjusting (and more whiny than EVER for her), her teacher, who had four kids, told me to try introducing "special time" to Sammie. It doesn't have to be a day out or even anything complicated, but label it as "our special time." For us, in the beginning, it was often just me giving the baby to my husband and sneaking away to read Sammie a story alone, just me and her. Or a trip to the grocery store. But each time, I made a point to tell her that it was "our special time, just us." As her teacher said, we assume our kids "get" that if its just the two of us, its special, but somehow labeling it as so makes it even more so. It helped us immensely. All of us. And as they've gotten older, we still do it. As Ellen says, I'll do something with one girl while the other gets a date with dad. Coming back together at the end of our separate dates is always a great feeling, and we notice that if we are having any behavior issues - from either girl - somehow, the special days are like hitting a "reset" button. Good luck! I remember how scary this time was. And I can tell you this . . . I worried so, so much about still having "enough" to give. But the gifts my girls have been to each other are far more than anything they ever could be "taking" from each other in terms of my time or energy. They are SUCH amazing gifts to each other.


Thanks for sharing!

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