“I’m Important, too!” How to Get Siblings Involved in Your Child’s Therapeutic Process

Girl smelling a flowers

As any brother or sister can tell you, having a sibling with special needs can be pretty rough. First, there’s the everyday sibling-rivalry stuff that we all experience.

“Mom! Sam isn’t sharing his toys!”

In addition, the child in therapy often gets first priority when it comes to scheduling.

Sydney, we can’t go to the pool today because Sam has a doctor’s appointment.”

Most of all, it’s the accumulation of tiny moments, in which the child with special needs gets undivided attention from mom, dad, teachers and therapists, that add up to natural frustration and feeling “left out.”

“It’s all about Sam. Don’t I count?”

However, your typical child can play a vital role in the therapeutic process. Siblings, like parents, are life-long teachers for your child with special needs. Many siblings want to help and will take pride in seeing their brother or sister grow. Talk to your child’s therapist in advance to find out if your son or daughter can participate as a role model, or set up some home visits.

Here are some tips to include your typically developing child in therapy with your special needs child:

  • Before starting therapy, have a positive conversation with your typically developing child so they know what to expect.
    • Example: “When we go see Miss Smith, she is going to play games with you and Sam. You will have a snack and clean up.”
  • Give him or her a “job” in each therapy session. Make sure this is age-appropriate and something he or she can do easily, with little or no help.
    • Example: “Sydney, when we have our snack, will you please give everyone a cup and napkin?”
  • Be specific: give him or her at least one task to focus on in therapy.
    • Example: “We are teaching Sam to share today. You can help by giving Sam some of your snack and showing him your toy car.”
  • Give him or her plenty of positive attention and praise. Notice when he or she is modeling appropriate behavior, demonstrating the skill that the child with special needs is working on, or accomplishing something important.
    • Example: “Sydney is sharing popcorn with Sam; that’s super!”
  • Provide some opportunities for choice, when possible.
    • Example: “We are going to practice sharing today. Would you like to share crayons or cars first?”

Last, but not least, it is very important for your typically developing child to have regular alone time with parents. Be sure to schedule some quality time, apart from your child with special needs, into the weekly routine. He or she will enjoy your full attention and you will see his or her individuality blossom!

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