Every child is unique, and their uniqueness often is why they are not treated the same.
Children need things to be fair. Growing up, I could always see the injustice or what I perceived as an injustice from the treatment of siblings. As a child, I felt like my mother had a favorite child; my older brother was that favorite child. However, when you ask him, he would say that I was the favorite. When I became a parent of two kids, I made the conscious choice NOT to have a favorite child, or least not let them know it.
At least that was the plan. However, when you have a child with special needs, the ability to be fair changes drastically. As a special needs parent, the things you do or things you have to do for your special needs child are not because you like or love that child more, but it comes out of necessity.
When my daughter reached an age-old enough to start speaking her mind, she would point out things that her brother received, and she did not. She pointed out how her brother had all these different therapists, and he and I would get to spend sleepovers at the hospital together with me. My son suffers from Epilepsy, these hospital sleepovers are overnight EEGs, and there’s nothing FUN about them.
I did my best to explain the reasons behind these overnight hospital visits and why Jake had a team of professionals dedicated to him; while she understood why it was needed, it didn’t change her feelings or sense of what was fair. I wanted to create equity for my children.
I used the term equity because both children should have the same ownership in terms of relationships with their parents. Equity Latin root meaning is equal, and I want my kids to feel EQUAL treatment. Equality, when you have a child with a disadvantage, looks different in terms of parenting.
My son has Autism, but he is physically able to do a lot. They both have chores and checklists that must happen before they can have access to screen time. While Jake’s checklist is different from his sister’s list, he still has a list of things he must do just the same as her.
I love the uniqueness of both of my kids, which makes them so incredible to me. However, there are certain situations where you can manage your children the same. If you have a child with the same physical abilities, then both kids should share the same responsibilities.
It is unfair for one child to take up all of your time, especially if that child already requires more time to deal with weekly meltdowns. I create time at the end of each day for a social-emotional connection with my daughter. If I am unable to make this time due to work commitments or other obligations, I will video or call her on the phone to make sure I connect with her. This tradition is something we both look forward to daily.
My husband does not have the same ability, especially when traveling, but his connection with her is a commitment to at least three times per week, no matter what. The commitment to giving her our time has given her a sense of having equal time.
Disciplining a special needs child is hard. A difficult thing is trying to figure out, are you punishing a possible psychological issue, or is this bad behavior? Figuring out what exactly you are disciplining is hard, but it does not mean you should reinforce bad behavior. Something as simple as giving the special needs child time to reset can be a reasonable punishment for unwanted or negative behavior.
In our house, we have a dedicated space called the quiet room for undesirable behaviors. The child is redirected into that space, while it’s not a punishment, but to Abby, she gets a sense of justice and doesn’t think Jake can get away with everything.