7 Phrases Every Special-Needs Sibling Needs to Hear


I’m a special-needs sibling raising a special-needs sibling, which helps me remember to say the words to him that I wanted to hear myself.

  • “You have my full attention.” Special-needs siblings can feel like their needs are always taking a back seat to their sibling’s needs. Try to reserve part of your day for just your typical children. Maybe it’s at bed time. Or when you’re washing dishes together. Or when you can get away to a movie.
  • “I’m proud of you.” We often celebrate the accomplishments of our kids with disabilities because they are fewer and far between. But our typical kids need to know we’re proud of their accomplishments too. And that we aren’t only proud of their actions, but also their attitude. We’re excited when they make 8 out of 10 free throws, and we’re also proud when they make friends with the new kid at school.
  • “I don’t know.” I can remember asking my mom, “Why did God give me a sister with Down syndrome?” Her first answer was “I don’t know.” Together we came up with lots of reasons ( like how our relationship made me more compassionate) but “I don’t know” is what I needed to hear at that age and stage, and the assurance that I didn’t have to figure it all out. I just had to take the next best step.
  • “Let’s make a plan together.” This is important to say when you find yourself saying, “Not right now” too often. The answer may be “Not right now,” but there will be a time you can do what your typical child is asking you to do. Make a plan together to do it when it’s best for all of you.
  • “I understand how you feel.” When I had negative feelings, like embarrassment or frustration, I need to know my feelings were ok to have. My parents never shamed me for how I felt. They showed empathy and understanding. Now I can share stories from my childhood with David when he shares his negative emotions. I know how he feels because I’ve been where he is.
  • “I’m sorry.” I’m sorry we aren’t living a plan A life (and the truth is, no one is). I’m sorry your brother’s limitations limit you too. I’m sorry your sister was having a hard morning and we’re running late. We can help our kids focus on the positive, but they also need to know it’s ok to not feel ok.
  • “Thank you.” Is that what we all wish we could hear each day? Just to know that we are seen and appreciated? Find something each day you can say thank you for: for help around the house, for extra patience, for being ok with leaving early. If you look, you may find lots of things you can say thank you for! (And you might even get a few thank yous in return!)

David and I did a live video on Facebook to talk about each phrase and I learned a lot from his feedback.

For more advice on how to encourage the typical kids in your special-needs family, check out my new book, Unexpected Blessings: The Joys and Possibilities of Life in a Special-Needs Family!

24 thoughts on “7 Phrases Every Special-Needs Sibling Needs to Hear

  1. Thanks for sharing these important reminders!
    Such a beautiful picture of you and him♡

  2. This is a great reminder to me of what my kids need. I try but fail miserably sometimes! I need to remember that a simple “thank you” or “I understand” is such an easy but profound thing to do. … and we often forget to do it. x

    • We all fail, for sure! I wrote these out to remind myself. And talking through them with David was interesting to do too, learning which ones he likes hearing the most.

  3. Fabulous, just fabulous. My 8 yo younger son is starting to notice and feel the effects of being an Aspergers sibling more. 🙁

    • It’s so tough! Praying for wisdom as we both figure all this out!

  4. I so appreciate you using your unique experiences to speak wisdom into the hearts of siblings of kids with special needs. Thanks for adding this link to DifferentDream.com’s Tuesday link up.

  5. Add “I love you no matter what” to that list. It is easy for people to think that their value is based off of their achievements when they achieve easily.

    • So true! That’s a great one to add to the list.

  6. “I’ve got your back”. I know it’s difficult depending on the special need for some to understand this. But those that do sometimes get the courage they need to face certain situations.
    ” I believe in you!” Can have a very positive impact as well because sometimes people may be led to believe that they can’t do certain things.
    I have a son with autism. We were told he would most likely never talk it would not be able to make friends. To see who he is today any of my friends and followers that he has makes me more proud of him than I ever thought I could be

    • Those are really good ones! So glad your son is doing well!

  7. This is beautiful. I identify with it totally. My son has autism and I can imagine my daughter saying each of the things that you’ve written about.
    I love the ‘I don’t know.’ Too many times we try to explain things for which we have no answer.

    Thank you!

    • Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment! It’s true we do try to explain what we don’t understand.

  8. Please don’t blame God for the birth of disabled children

    • “Then the Lord said to him, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?’” (Exodus 4:11)

  9. I love this! My husband and I are about to adopt a sibling pair, one of which is special needs. Very timely!

  10. My special needs son always needs to hear me say ‘I will always be right here’ or in a store ‘ I will never loose you’. And I better be always standing there when he gets out of school to live out my promise ‘ I will always be here waiting for you – you will never be alone.’

  11. As the “Jamma” of my special needs granddaughter I try to have at least one day a week with her younger sibling. It gives him the opportunity to just be him. He loves his sister so much but it can be stressful. My family could not do this with God and prayer. We work at finding time for respite for their parents, but he needs respite too.
    Thank you for sharing so much wisdom. I always look forward to your posts.

Leave a Comment