Tips to Help Parents Talk to Children About a Sibling’s Learning Disability

A child with a learning disability has special needs that their siblings don’t share. The need for different teaching methods, such as multisensory instruction, may lead this child to attend John Cardinal O’Connor School while siblings go to another school.

Attending one of the leading schools for learning disabilities in Westchester is a great way to help the child reach their academic potential, but, too often, parents overlook the need to talk with their other children about the LD and the impact it has on every family member.

An Unequal Distribution of Parental Time

Failing to talk to kids about their sibling’s learning disability can lead to resentment. The additional time and attention parents give to the child with a learning disability can make the unaffected sibling feel ignored or less important. Sometimes children are expected to take on more responsibilities to account for the greater demands on the parent. Treating the condition like it is something to be ashamed of only adds to the confusion and resentment.

Bringing the learning disability out into the open and making siblings a part of the solution can have a better result. Below are some tips on how parents can discuss the LD with their other children.

  • Explain What Caused the LD – Depending on their age, the other children may be afraid that the LD is an illness or a punishment for being bad. They might fear they can “catch” it from their sibling. Explain that their sibling’s brain works differently than theirs, so that it takes different types of teaching to help him or her learn. Add that schools for learning disabilities have specially trained educators who can help their sibling learn in the way that is best for him or her.
  • Call It What It Is – Refer to the learning disability by name and use it in conversation whenever appropriate. If parents need to meet with teachers to discuss their child’s progress with the LD, tell the siblings that you need to meet with teachers to discuss their sibling’s Sensory Processing Disorder.
  • Distinguish “Different” from “Worse” – Explain that although their sibling learns differently, he or she is not worse than other kids the same age, and no other child is better.
  • Help Them Understand How to Respond to Other Kids – The conversations you have with your children will help them understand the time and attention you must devote to a child with a learning disability, but they may still feel uncomfortable if their peers ask questions or make inappropriate remarks about their sibling. Extend the conversation to concerns they may have over what other kids are thinking or saying.
  • Look for Books to Help – There are books out there that explain any learning disability your child may have. If you can’t seem to find the right words or aren’t sure of the best approach, let books do the talking for you.

There are differences in how children react to siblings with learning disabilities according to their age, order of birth, and sex in relation to the other child. One of the most important things parents can do to make it an easier topic for discussion is to be accepting of the situation and not try to keep it hidden. As more children understand about their sibling’s learning disability, the easier it will be for them to accept it as a normal part of the family dynamic.


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