Challenges of Siblings


Most Commonly Reported Challenges of Siblings of Special-Needs Children

Many siblings struggle when their brother or sister carries a disability. Challenges arise unexpectedly. Parents are often unsure how to provide help and guidance. The first step to helping the siblings of special-needs children involves knowing where to look for the most common challenges. Here are the top ten:

  1. Neglected: Siblings often yearn for their parents' time and attention because of the consuming demands brought on by their disabled brother or sister.
  2. Confused or left out: When parents and healthcare providers don’t inform siblings about the diagnosis or what it means, it can lead siblings to feel forgotten and bewildered.
  3. Isolated: Peers don’t relate to siblings’ uncommon circumstances. Often, siblings spend more time at home alone and are left with no outlet for sharing their concerns and questions.
  4. Worried: Siblings worry about the long-term needs and provision of care for their brother or sister if parents are not available. Also, when the home environment changes, anxiety can set in.
  5. Fearful: Some brothers and sisters fear that their sibling’s challenges are contagious, that the special need could be passed to other children in the future. They also become fearful at the presence of disorder and emotional intensity in family members and are afraid that they won’t know how to talk or play with their sibling,
  6. Internalized pressure: With the disability of a sibling, brothers and sisters often feel the need to perform well or to be high achievers.
  7. Resentful: Resentment often occurs in light of the increased time and attention given to their sibling.
  8. Guilt: Some siblings feel guilty when enjoying the things in life that their special-needs sibling will never enjoy.
  9. Angry: Anger can fester when a special-needs sibling is excused from regular discipline and responsibilities in the home or at school.
  10. Long-term: Other problems that might crop up over the long-term include: emotional disturbances, identity problems, unresolved grief, and physical problems due to internalized emotions.

How You Can Help Siblings of Special-Needs Kids

Siblings of a special-needs child are greatly affected by the shift their family must make. Many times they feel left out, confused, isolated, and unable to find a place to freely express their struggles. Here are 10 very simple ways you can help kids who have a disabled brother or sister:

  1. Listen without criticizing them, judging them, or telling them how to feel.
  2. Attend their sporting events.
  3. Assist with their transportation needs.
  4. Take them to the movies, the mall, or any place they enjoy that’s away from the house.
  5. Engage with them in their favorite hobby.
  6. Ask their parents how the sibling(s) are doing.
  7. Celebrate their accomplishments at school or at church.
  8. Send them funny cards and encouraging notes through the mail.
  9. Offer to help them with school projects and extended assignments.
  10. Play. Take a walk or a run; lift weights; play board games; offer creative expression by coloring, drawing, sketching, and painting together; get outside; or provide laughter.

How the Church Ministry Can Help Siblings of Special-Needs Kids

Would you like to minister to the siblings of a special-needs family but don’t know where to start? The Internet has plenty of great resources for help in researching and shaping an outreach ministry at your church that’s tailored to their needs. Here are a few:

Sibling Support in the United States

  • Sibshops is the most significant organization for supporting special-needs siblings. This international sibling support organization desires to increase the number of programs and helps to special-needs siblings, to make others aware of  sibling needs and to provide specific information for local programs and parent groups. This is an invaluable resource for church ministries. Find it online at 
  • Disability Scoop was developed by professional journalists who saw the need for a central, reliable source of information within the special-needs community. And as the sister of an adult with autism, Michelle Diament, cofounder of Disability Scoop, knows firsthand the issues that families, caregivers, and people with disabilities face every day. At Disability Scoop,, you will find articles gathered from across the Web as well as original content.
  • Across the United States, chapters of The Arc work tirelessly on behalf of children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Committed to families’ concerns, The Arc can provide you with support and information on how to help siblings of special-needs children lead a dignified life. The Arc can also connect you with excellent programs such as Sibling Support network, SibNet, Sibling Support Project, and the Sibshops group. Connect with these at 
  • New Horizon Kids Quest is another fantastic organization designed to help siblings and families. Located at New Horizon Kids Quest, 16355 36th Avenue North, Suite #700, Plymouth, Minnesota 55446 1-800-941-1007 or 763-557-1111, they offer programming, personal training, legal expertise, and much more.
  • Family Village: An international community directed as a Disability-Related Resource, this organization offers a comprehensive Web site ( that “integrates information, resources, and communication opportunities on the Internet for persons with cognitive and other disabilities, for their families, and for those that provide them services and support.”
  • The Sibling Connection targets siblings who have experienced the death of a brother or sister. Find them online at 
  • Band-Aides and Blackboards offers empathy and advice for kids who have medical problems—and for their siblings. Visit

Sibling Support Efforts outside the United States

About the author


Colleen Swindoll Thompson

Colleen Swindoll Thompson holds a bachelor of arts degree in Communication from Trinity International University as well as minors in psychology and education. Colleen serves as the director of Reframing Ministries at Insight for Living Ministries. From the personal challenges of raising a child with disabilities (her son Jonathan), Colleen offers help, hope, and a good dose of humor through speaking, writing, and counseling those affected by disability. Colleen and her husband, Toban, have five children and reside in Frisco, Texas.

More articles by Colleen Swindoll Thompson