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These tips have all been sent in by other parents, carers and professionals in the learning disability community. We hope they will give you plenty of ideas to try, but please remember Netbuddy is not responsible for the information provided or any of the activities suggested.
Leah's Voice is a new children's story about issues children encounter when they meet a child with special needs and the difficulties siblings can face. It focuses on two sisters. Through kindness and devotion, one sister shows the importance of including everyone and acceptance.
I've made a simple photo book with photos of my two sons and sentences underneath. For example - "This is H's special tube. It goes straight into his tummy. This is how he gets his food". This has been a great way of explaining my son's disabilities to his older brother, particularly as his condition is undiagnosed.
My friend has Down Syndrome
This is a useful picture book for children that tells the story of one girl's friendship with a child who has Down Syndrome. It would be suitable for either friends or siblings as an introduction to what it means to have Down Syndrome. There are 'Did you know' sections, giving more info, for slightly older children. Click here
MakatonMy tip for siblings is to learn Makaton. My brother has Down's syndrome and is in his 50's now. His speech has deteriorated dramatically in recent years and we now find it hard to communicate with each other, which is very sad. I wish we had both learned Makaton when we were younger.
Siblings need to have regular opportunities to talk about their brother or sister's disability and to be able to ask questions they might have. Every six months is beneficial as children’s capacity to understand more information develops quite quickly. It is useful if parents instigate this rather than waiting for them to ask questions, as some siblings avoid asking questions in fear of upsetting their parents.
A book for siblings
My Special Brother Rory is a book published by National Autistic Society aimed at younger siblings. We've found it very useful with our daughter for encouraging and reinforcing positive images of both herself and her disabled brother.
Sibs.org.uk is a UK charity dedicated to supporting the brothers and sisters of people with special needs: www.sibs.org.uk
Say it with a notePut a note in a lunchbox or send a postcard or text to your sibling child. Write something fun and positive, such as ‘I am thinking about you today' or 'Have a fun time at football club'. A nice way to let siblings know you are thinking about them too.
TV timeMy daughter likes obscure TV programmes that have 'audio description' and watches the same DVD over and over again. She now has her own TV/DVD player in her room so her siblings get to choose more what they would like to watch. We try to have at least one TV free evening a week when we play cards.
Down's Syndrome Association guide
'Rules' by Cynthia Lord
My 10 year old daughter really enjoyed a book called 'Rules' by Cynthia Lord. It is written with young children in mind, who have an autistic family member. It has a very sympathetic approach, and great humour.
Contact a Family guide for siblings
Contact a Family produces a guide for siblings which is available from their freephone helpline number: 0808 808 3555.
'It isn't fair!'
A good book I have come across is 'It Isn't Fair!' by Stanley D. Klein and Maxwell J. Schleifer. It is written by parents, siblings and professionals and deals with all sorts of issues around fairness, expectations, rewards, caretaking responsibilities and negative feelings.
Siblings need to feel special too
We like to make Zoe’s 2 siblings feel special as well. For example when my sister or parents can look after Zoe and one of our other children, it means we can spend time with one child at a time (e.g. baking cakes together, playing Wii or Playstation together, going to cinema or shopping trip).
We've always been as honest as possible with keeping Jason in the loop and trying to explain what's going on, even if that means saying that we don't know ourselves. We've explained that Down's Syndrome means that when a baby is being made, it is made of jigsaw pieces and they get one too many which causes the body to work a bit differently, and then give some examples.
It's not entirely their responsibility
We try not to make Nicola feel responsible for her special needs brother, life is tough enough.
Do it with stories
When Simon was about eight he found things very difficult having a sister with special needs. I tackled it by inventing stories about Edie and how annoying she was to him. I used to tell them to him in the car when we were on our own, and I think they helped a bit, and then the need for them passed.
They're not alone.....
If you need more help than you're getting and relying on your non-disabled children for help, then do contact Social Services. Some areas have 'sibling groups' or 'young carers' activities. Also check out the Websites – google siblings special needs for siblings forums. These can help brothers and sisters to know they are not the only ones.
Tommy’s siblings are great at making the effort to use pecs. We really appreciate their support so we are careful to acknowledge them and give them occasional small treats as a thank you.
One thing that certainly helped us was sending Jackie to a holiday club one day a week for about 4 weeks in the summer holidays and occasionally for a day at half term or in the other holidays as well as after school clubs. It meant that if my non-disabled son wanted to do something he knew that we could do it then and that somehow took the pressure off the rest of the times when we couldn't easily do these things. Sometimes he didn't actually want to go anywhere in particular but the fact he knew that we could was important.
Thinking about them too......
If you're staying in hospital with your disabled child, you can't also be making the other’s tea - but you can perhaps buy them their favourite chocolate from the hospital shop and send it home with your partner, or leave them a phone message with your love, or arrange with a friend to take them to their regular weekly football training /dance session etc. Why should their lives be put on hold just because their sibling is in hospital and you're anxious!
Give them words
Toby was finding it difficult to talk about having a disabled brother. We gave him a set phrase so that he could tell people about his brother without fumbling or being embarrassed. When he was younger I used to explain to his friend's mother before the friend came over to play.
Sibling takeover - watch out!
When you set up a playdate for your special needs child, make sure your more socially capable children are not home, otherwise they may ‘take over’, defeating the purpose of the playdate.
15 minutes a day
We give both John and his sibling undivided quality time even if it is as little as 15 minutes per day.
Questions and answers
We have given Sue as many answers as we can to the questions we know she is being asked. This has made life so much easier for her .
Keep them in the loop
We have always tried to make sure that our Adam understands Milly’s difficulties and why she has them. It can be very easy to forget to update siblings as they mature, or as your child's condition/needs change.
Always acknowledge and respect your non-disabled childrens feelings.
Not every time
Pete is in residential school we purposely do not insist his siblings come to visit every time we go.
They have their life too
When Joannna comes home for the weekends we do not insist her siblings stay home to be with her or to help.
They count too
Don’t forget to notice and appreciate your other childrens interests and achievements.
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