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Different Discipline: Special Needs Kids with Neurotypical Siblings

Different Discipline: Special Needs Kids with Neurotypical Siblings

It stands to reason that effective discipline for a special needs child with cognitive disadvantages would be handled differently than for a neurotypical child. But kids don't necessarily view the house rules through the lens of reason.

How should parents respond when a "normal" child complains that expectations for their challenged sibling seem less stringent?

"My eight-year-old ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivty disorder) is the oldest, and when we discipline him differently than our five- and three-year-old girls, they're picking up on the fact that he's being treated differerently and they think it's not fair," writes Rachael S. in the Moms of Kids With ADHD community. "How does that work? How can I 'normally' discipline my girls and be 'lenient' with my son?"


It's a question many parents face as they juggle the demanding and specific needs of their special needs children along with the resentments sometimes felt by their neurotypical kids.

Stacey H., a mom posting in the Mothers of Special Needs Children community, knows she handles her 10-year-old son (who has a a bipolar dosorder, autism, Tourette's Syndrome and ADHD) differently than the other children in the household. "I do need to let a bit of stuff with my 10-year-old slide that I would not with the others," she writes. Not only is it difficult for the kids, it creates tension between her and her boyfriend.

Friction between family members over a parent's accommodations to children with special needs is not unusual.

Yolanda M., posting in the Autism/Asperger's/PPD Awareness community sees a similar drama playing out in her home. Her eight-year-old son has vexed his older brother way past his tolerance point.

"My older son is sick of giving him his way," she shares.

Ani S., also a member of the Autism/Asperger's/PPD Awareness community, has two sons two years apart in age, the elder with a special needs diagnosis.

"We have been through the 'you favor him,' 'he has different rules than I do,' and the like," she writes.

And Renee H., who has an eight-year-old autistic son and a 10-year-old daughter with no diagnosis, says that she "will sometimes make the comment 'he always gets away with stuff.' That is not true, but it is true that I have to work with him through so many situations and she sees that as him getting off easy."

This sentiment is echoed by many in the community, including Teena S., whose four older children routinely tell her she is favoring their younger brother, who is autistic and has a diagnosis of ADHD. Much of this perception, she says, stems from the flexibility required to effectively discipline a cognitively-challenged child.

"I have to change his discipline every week, as what worked one week doesn't work the next," she posts. She realizes that the continual changes don't seem fair or consistent to the other kids. "It is a battle and is so hard."

So what's a parent engaged in this kind of battle to do? Keri L. suggests acknowledging the feelings of jilted siblings to help defuse the accumulating tension.

"We have validated that yes, it sucks for them sometimes," she writes in the Autism/Asperger's/PPD Awareness community in reference to the struggle her two neurotypical children face.

She and her husband went beyond offering just their own empathy; they involved all their children in their autistic son's ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) therapy.

That move gave their neurotypical children insight into their brother's hardship that she says no amount of parent talk ever could.

"They understand he does have consequences. They are just different from their own," she posts.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.

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