I’m a special-needs sibling. My sister Syble, who has Down syndrome, is just fourteen months older than I am. Growing up in her shadow had challenges and blessings.

I’m also a special-needs mom. My younger son James was diagnosed with autism in 2010. Because of what I went through, I’m able to relate to my older son David and help him navigate growing up as a special-needs sibling.

Based on my experiences and what I’ve observed with David and other families, I believe there are three stages of development special-needs siblings experience. As parents, we need to be patient and understanding as our kids move through each phase.

1-10 YEARS OLD: NOTICING DIFFERENCES

When the typical kids in our families are young, they are noticing the differences between their siblings and themselves. I remember asking my parents questions about why Syble looked different, wasn’t able to do what I could do, and why it was harder for her to pronounce words. I also knew she went to therapies I didn’t go to and she was in a special-education class (which at the time meant she went to a different school than I did).

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