Special Educational Needs & Siblings

Claire Walley
January 16, 2024

We often focus heavily on the needs, wants and life chances of our children with special educational needs. Rightly so, as SEN parents you become superhuman over night! Advocating for your child’s needs medically, educationally, socially, and even with your own family. Let’s take the focus of our SEN children for a moment, (they will probably appreciate it!), and take some time to look at their siblings.

Don Meyer of Washington State University states:

“Siblings are too important to ignore because no one logs more hours and minutes with special needs children than their brothers and sisters, except for the parents, usually the mother.”


Siblings will spend many more hours and years with their SEN sibling, not only through childhood but into adulthood. Where in some cases they will become carers or advocates themselves. Siblings are often kept in the dark about the nuances of their brother or sister’s needs to protect them. However, often these youngsters are having to attempt to understand or explain their siblings needs to other children on the playground, other adults or even strangers – explaining how to support their sibling when they may need additional support in a public place for example.

So, how does this feel for our ‘little advocates’? Some children carry guilt – as they meet expected milestones or succeed in school and their siblings may not. Others display anger and jealousy as they feel neglected by parents who are having to focus on special needs or are having to manage situations that arise from having additional needs – such as meetings at school or more frequent medical appointments for example.

Dr Milevsky from Psychology Advisor highlights siblings may feel the need to “be perfect” to compensate for their sibling’s perceived imperfections or the stress the sibling’s disability is putting on the parents. “They suffer silently”.


There are ways we can support our SEN siblings, as well as be a great parent to our SEN children too. Firstly, we must realise that all of the emotional responses siblings are displaying are valid and are a communication of a need. Their needs are going to be more complex as they are having to navigate some quite grown-up emotions around guilt, jealousy and possibly anger. Encourage them to talk openly about their feelings, even if it means talking negatively about a SEN sibling in the first instance.

Second, ensure you are open and honest with your whole family about your child’s special educational needs – what challenges they may face and how their ‘version’ of life is going to be.

Lastly, empower your SEN sibling. Make sure they have a good understanding of your other child/children’s needs. Knowledge is power – not only will it help them to understand their sibling’s behaviour, thoughts, and actions, it will also help them to be an advocate for them.

There are organisations that can support SEN siblings. These organisations provide respite and exciting activities for children to take part in – to allow them some down time away from the pressures of SEN family life. Young Carers Day is 16th March 2022! They have lots of great resources for young people and families. Check them out here: https://carers.org/young-carers-action-day-2022/young-carers-action-day-2022-resources

The SEN Expert offers a range of services for young people, families and schools. We offer support for parents to help navigate the complex world of Special Educational Needs. We will work with you closely to ensure the best for your child.

The SEN Expert was set up by Claire in 2021 following a successful career spanning 12 years in school improvement, special educational needs, safeguarding and the arts.

Claire has worked as a Deputy Headteacher, Assistant Headteacher, Consultant and SENCO in both state and private schools in inner city London, the Southwest, the Midlands and the USA.

Throughout her career, Claire has ensured solid outcomes for the young people she has worked with. Be that a set of good exam grades, a placement in specialist setting or getting a part time job.

Claire is a working mother, and understands the challenges parents face trying to ensure their children are happy and successful. We aim to provide young people with a creative route to the personal and professional adult life they deserve.

Claire sits outside a café with a laptop

SEN consultancy
with a difference.

We offer support for families, children, and schools to navigate the complex world of SEN.

Check out our full list of services at our website www.thesenexpert.co.uk or follow us on Instagram @senexpert for daily advice on special educational needs.

The SEN Expert is a company registered in England and Wales with company number 13523478.