All Different but all the Same – Parenting Siblings when there’s Special Needs in the family

Whether we like it or not we are all different. Life would be boring otherwise wouldn’t it. Consequently we are all treated differently too. So when I considered how my “normal trait” children were treated compared to my “special needs” children, I think it’s the same as how my teen is treated compared to my toddler. It’s all about need, environment, understanding etc isn’t it? You wouldn’t expect my preschooler to go to bed at the same time as my teen – and you just find a way to explain that to all concerned. But then the preschooler may get to eat cake when he hasn’t eaten all of his dinner, but the teen would not get away with it.


My two middle children are aware that their brothers sometimes need treating differently, but they also understand why (which is a bit harsh for the 5 year old). Sometimes they have to pander to their brothers’ needs – such as always being the one to count during hide and seek, because their brother doesn’t understand (again this would be the same as if he were just younger). But we try to make it up to them – maybe by letting them stay up an extra half an hour on their computer, as a reward for being so kind (and tolerant).

I guess it was easier for us, as it is the first born who has Aspergers – so all subsequent children grew up with our way of life as being the normal. I don’t tend to punish behaviour either – we praise the good.

I think that the most important factor is developing good relationships between them. Doing things that involve teamwork in order to succeed, or family fun like bowling.

Some times you just have to do things you’d rather not – like telling my 5 year old just to give his 3 year old brother whatever toys he wants, whilst I’m cooking the dinner for example, so that the 3 year old doesn’t hurt the 5 year old. There’s no point just punishing the 3 year old because he doesn’t understand. Saying that we do not just “let” him hurt his brother – and he is spoken to about it, and does say sorry. But I think prevention is better than cure. Lots of people would also argue this is just normal sibling behaviour too. More abstract is the way our youngest seems to be really hurt by the slightest touch – and will start saying that people have punched him (when they haven’t). His brothers just accept (through explanation) that this is the case, and say sorry to him – because they know that they are not in trouble and that it will make their brother feel better.

We make sure that they have a safe place to go – my middle two have a bedroom with a stairgate preventing the youngest getting in. This also means they can keep things such as Lego, board games, books and special pictures safe. We also put up a white board so they could put their certificates and pictures proudly on display without the risk of their brother destroying them. That they get quality one-to-one time with their parents (board games are a favourite). They also do activities outside of the home (swimming and cubs at the moment). Sometimes their grandparents take them out individually too.


It’s important to keep talking about the Special Need because the sibling may be being teased by others, be embarrassed  or worried that they may have to take care of them if anything happened to their parent/s.

There is help available, so please Google the condition. Sometimes it helps just to talk to other people in a similar situation. For example, if you do not know of anyone locally then the National Autistic Society have a helpline, or may be able to put you in touch with someone. There is funding for siblings who are carers, and there’s also access to trips out etc.

Do you have any advice as regards siblings – either with or without disabilities, and how you tackle the difference in how you treat them?

1 thought on “All Different but all the Same – Parenting Siblings when there’s Special Needs in the family”

  1. It’s really hard to feel like you get sibling rivalry right. I never feel like I’ve done the right thing by everyone, and often I lose my own patience with having to deal with it!


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