Providing Support to Siblings of Children with Hearing Loss

Siblings sometimes report that they feel left out of things because the child with hearing loss, or other disabilities, requires so much attention from parents. Everyone working with a family affected by hearing loss needs to be aware that sibs need attention too. So what can we do?

 

Talk about hearing loss

Parents and professionals working with families need to talk directly and honestly with siblings. We need to explain what hearing loss is, at the level the child understands, and answer questions honestly. Teach the sibling how to monitor technology and let them help. Try and explain why it is necessary for the child with hearing loss to use technology and why he needs to go to therapy. A sibling may be a good communication partner and may be able to be an assist in therapy. Since parents should be part of the therapy session, therapy time is not a good time for the parent to spend with the sibling alone, but the sibling could attend therapy and be part of a communication triad. Not every sibling will be good at this but many will.

 

Make special time for sibs

Although the child with hearing loss may not feel that going to therapy is a privilege, the sibs may feel that they are not getting their fair share of parent time. They are right; it is not fair. However, it is something that cannot be avoided. It is probably impossible to find equal time for each child, but each child in the family should have special time – time they can spend with parents doing something they want to do. It doesn’t have to be a big deal event or a lot of time, but every child needs time alone with parents. A few minutes at bed time, or an occasional “date” they can look forward to and can talk about afterwards by looking at photos will help. Grandparents can be a big help here too by spending some time with the child with hearing loss so parents can spend time with the siblings.

 

Sibs should not feel they have to sacrifice for the child with hearing loss

It is tempting to try and tell a normal-hearing child how lucky he is to have normal hearing but this is something we should try and avoid. Yes, having normal hearing is sparing him some things his sib with hearing loss would likely be happy to give up, but he did not choose this and should not be made to feel bad when he wants that extra attention. Sometimes sibs feel as if they cannot get their parents’ attention, and they may wonder what they need to do to get parents to focus on them. They may wonder if they have to be super good because there is a child with a disability in the family, or if being bad will get them attention. They may question if they are allowed to feel jealous, angry, or annoyed at their sibling. They may feel they cannot ask for things they want or need because the child with hearing loss needs so much. It’s a lot of pressure for a kid.

 

Things siblings worry about

Siblings may worry about how the child with hearing loss will manage in school. If language is delayed they may worry that the child will not do well. Will she have friends? Will she be bullied? What is my responsibility? Do I have to look out for my sibling? Do I need to invite my brother with a hearing loss to play with me and my friends? Does he get an extra turn at bat because he has a hearing loss? What about when playing board games? How many extra tries does he get? I think the answer should be that every child has the same number of chances – the child with hearing loss has to learn he has to play by the same rules as everyone else. But if he does not understand what he was supposed to do, the typical sibling should try and help him figure it out.

 

Many sibling problems are the same

The problems of siblings with hearing loss may be no different from those of children with normal hearing, but sometimes they are, and sometimes they require special consideration. There is no doubt that having a child with a disability adds extra stress to parenting. It also adds extra stress to being a sibling. We just need to be aware of the stress involved and watch the siblings to make sure they are also being the best they can be.

 

About Jane Madell

Jane Madell has a consulting practice in pediatric audiology. She is an audiologist, speech-language pathologist, and LSLS auditory verbal therapist, with a BA from Emerson College and an MA and PhD from the University of Wisconsin. Her 45+ years experience ranges from Deaf Nursery programs to positions at the League for the Hard of Hearing (Director), Long Island College Hospital, Downstate Medical Center, Beth Israel Medical Center/New York Eye and Ear Infirmary as director of the Hearing and Learning Center and Cochlear Implant Center. Jane has taught at the University of Tennessee, Columbia University, Downstate Medical School, and Albert Einstein Medical School, published 5 books, and written numerous books chapters and journal articles, and is a well known international lecturer.