In the last few months, I have spoken with several siblings of kids with hearing loss and with other disabilities who were feeling in need of support. It reminded me that not only does the child with hearing loss need support, but siblings do as well. When parents have a child with a serious illness or disability, it can be overwhelming. Hearing loss is no exception. The children require a lot of work – medical appointments, therapy, audiology, working with the child to build language skills and working on homework. etc. Sometimes, siblings get ignored – or they feel they are ignored.
Why do siblings feel left out?
When siblings get dragged along to therapy, they often view parents as giving more time to the child with a disability than to themselves. While we can all understand the problem parent have in managing therapy, it can set up problems for the siblings. Yes, the child with hearing loss, or other disability, needs a lot of time, and sometimes, babysitting issues require that the typical hearing child just gets dragged along. What can parents do?
Understand the issues
First, parents must be aware that having a special needs sibling can be a problem for a child. If a child feels that he is getting too little attention, in addition to being angry at the parent, he may become angry with the sibling who has the hearing loss. It is unreasonable to expect that a young child will understand that the other child has special needs. Even as children get older, they may understand intellectually that their sister or brother has special issues but it does not make them feel better when parents are not available. Often children do not feel they can complain about simple things (“I did not get picked for the team”) when the child with a disability has what appear to be more serious problems.
Schedule special time
Every child needs time with parents, and needs to feel that parents want to spend time with them. Parents should make sure they figure out a way to spend time with each child. Figure out what the child would like to do and find a way to do it. Maybe one day, grandparents can take the child with hearing loss to therapy and mom can go to a soccer game. Time for each child does not have to be equal, but special time must to be scheduled.
Grandparents, aunts, and uncles can help
Maybe other family members can take on some of the burden, doing some of the things that the special needs child needs as well as the things that the other kids need. Just having time with someone who listens is very valuable, but this is not a substitute for parents being there.
Remember to do fun things with the child with hearing loss too
Parents also need to make sure the time they spend with the child with hearing loss is not all about therapy. Children with hearing loss need fun things too. I remember one girl who came for a hearing test very annoyed because all her friends were going out for pizza after school and she had to come for a hearing test. Mom felt she could not cancel because she had waited a long time for the appointment. She also felt that the child should be grateful to be getting new hearing aids and should not be complaining. The little girl felt that her hearing loss was interfering with living. She was right. She needed more fun activities. We need to remember to schedule fun time. If we have to schedule therapy time, maybe we can find some fun things to do on the way home.
Parenting is difficult
Yes, parenting is difficult, and parenting a child with a disability is especially so. And I am clearly making it more difficult now. But, remember the other kids. They need just as much emotional support and love. Maybe more.