January 17, 2013

Brandon, Travis and Dylan enjoy a family outing to Cowboys Stadium.

If you have a sibling, then you know how fun, frustrating and entertaining that relationship can be. But what happens to the relationship when one sibling has special needs and the other is typically developing?

What can parents do to help strengthen the bond while also giving each child the one-on-one time and attention he needs?

For Robert Yocom, executive director of Epic’s El Paso branch, the above questions are very familiar. You see, Robert and his wife are parents to three boys – two typically developing and one with special needs.

“Our middle son, Travis, was born with Down’s syndrome,” said Robert. “Early on, Travis spent a tremendous amount of time in the hospital. Sometimes it kept us from doing things with his brothers, but we have always tried to make time for all of our children and support their activities.”

Robert and his wife have also focused on nurturing the sibling relationships between the three boys.

“Raising three growing, active boys is a challenge by itself,” explained Robert. “Just like any brothers, they will fight over the TV and video games. But they are also extremely protective and supportive of each other.”

While each family is different, there are a few things parents can do to help strengthen the bond between typically developing and special needs siblings. The NYU Child Study Center recommends the following:

  • Explain the disability to your children in appropriate language
  • Try to give each child a regularly scheduled special time with each parent
  • Remember that not everything has to be done with the whole family. When an activity is too taxing for the special needs child, arrangements can be made for his care while the family is out.
  • Encourage each child to pursue his/her own interests
  • Recognize each child’s unique strengths and accomplishments
  • Have the special needs child do as much as she can for herself
  • Find opportunities to compliment each child for being helpful and for being a team player
  • Consider enlisting the help of relatives, when feasible
  • Initiate periodic family discussions at a quiet time with no distractions

“Having a son with special needs has made my wife and me better people, and our other two boys have learned to be more accepting and less judgmental,” states Robert.

“We are really no different from any other family. Each child is an individual with his own likes, dislikes, strengths and weakness, and that is what we try to focus on as parents.”