Dehradun-based Tanya Shreshta*, has two kids, Anjali* and Utkarsh*. Anjali, who is five years older than her brother, is a special child. So severe is her condition that she needs help with even the most basic human functions. Needless to say, she has always been the focus of the Shreshta household.
Before Utkarsh was born, Tanya and her husband worried that another child would cut in to the time they needed to give Anjali, but they went ahead with her pregnancy anyway. Now, they worry that they might be neglecting Utkarsh without realising it. He is a child after all, and unless he gets the attention he deserves, he might learn to resent his older sister.
If one of your children has special needs, you totally empathise with Tanya, don't you? Dr Vandana Tara, family counsellor at Moolchand Medcity, New Delhi, tells you how you can achieve the Herculean task of catering to both sets of needs...
Don't try to be supermom
Get help, whether it's a grandparent or a relative or hired help. While nobody else can substitute for the love and care you can give, always being accessible and being the only caretaker of your child with special needs is expecting yourself to be a supermom. Plus, their health-permitting, even a special child must learn some degree of independence, don't you think?
Prioritise. Get help for the more taxing chores so you're not spread thin. This will leave you with the time and energy to be there for the important stuff for both your children.
Be honest. Tell your kids what's wrong. This will nip sibling rivalry in the bud, and prevent your healthy child from teasing or bullying her/his sibling out of jealousy.
Get your child involved
Growing up with an ill older brother made Anju* act out when she was around seven. "I was a full-blown hypochondriac," she laughs. "After months of running between specialists (for me, this time, not bhai), our wise old GP realised I was suffering from 'medical neglect' and just needed attention."
Have you noticed attention-seeking behaviour in your healthy child? A simple way to address that is by getting her/him involved in the sibling's care. This is obviously easier if your healthy child is older. Younger siblings like Utkarsh and Anju should be involved in little things as soon as they're old enough to understand what's happening around them.
While hiring help, keep in mind the danger of sexual abuse of your child. Avoid hiring male help if you have a special needs daughter and vice versa.
Set time aside
Dr Tara recommends that Tanya would do well to work around Utkarsh's timetable. She should pay dedicated attention to Anjali while Utkarsh is at school or out playing; when he's home, it's Utkarsh-time! While he should help with Anjali's care, knowing he has Tanya's full attention when he's home will make him a much more secure child.
Having a special child isn't easy. Hats off to you for being the parent that you are, living an inspiring example every day. Please share your story with us. Your way of dealing with the problem could help parents who are struggling with similar issues (you can even use our 'Anonymous' comment option). Write to our experts if you have questions. Or write to us on email@example.com, we'll do our best to help!