“The siblings of special needs children are quite special. Absolutely accepting and totally loving, from birth, someone who is different mentally, and has a different way of seeing the world, is a wonderful trait. Its a trait, I wish there was another way of getting, but there isn’t. And it does involve the degree of not having it fantastically easy.”– Sally Phillips
When we see a disabled child, our mind is mostly focused on what he might be going through and while doing so we overlook his siblings and the kind of challenges they may have to face while growing up with a special child. They are automatically perceived as the privileged ones. However, life may not be so simple for them as we imagine.
What Is Glass Child Syndrome?
This term refers to the siblings of disabled children, whose parents may overlook the healthy siblings while caring for the special child, having mental, cognitive or physical disabilities. The adjective ‘glass’ describes that parents who are consumed by the needs of the special child, tend to see right through the healthy siblings. A glass child becomes forgotten and invisible in this whole picture of a struggling family.
Due to circumstances that parents cannot control, their attention might be disproportionately divided as 80 to 20 percent, with 20 percent available for glass child and rest of it going to the disabled child. The struggles that starts from early childhood, worsen in teenage and impacts a person’s personality as an adult.
Alicia Maples speaks in details about her struggle as a glass child in her TEDx Talks Recognising Glass Child Syndrome, shedding light on how the impact is long lasting and quite so painful.
Struggles In The Life Of The Glass Child
Contrary to the word “glass” child, such a child maybe anything but fragile or breakable.
In his journey of being a glass child, he might be going through a lot, but his struggles go unnoticed in comparison to that of disabled child’s.
1. Loneliness And Sense Of Neglection
The most a glass child gets to sit with his parents is in the waiting area of a hospital while his disabled child is being looked at by the doctor. Even then he may not have his parents attention who are occupied by health concerns for their special child.
From not having his parents with him on the sports day to receiving his appreciation award without family on the annual day of school, a glass child maybe left alone to celebrate his achievements.
2. Prefers To Keep His Burden Off His Parents’ Shoulder
Most of the time he has to take care of his own needs because he realizes his parents have a lot on their plates already and it would be too much to ask if he wants to discuss his school problems with them.
If a child by any chance makes a mistake, family and friends constantly try to communicate it to him about how he shouldn’t burden his parents with his problems.
Growing up with someone with special needs, a glass child has more pressure to be problem free, sensible and emotionally rational. He makes every effort to be the “perfect” healthy child to play his positive role in the family.
3. May Take the Role Of Additional Care Giver
A glass child may have self-imposed expectations of himself because he believes that as the normal child in the family he has to do more. Understanding his parents responsibilities, he steps in as an additional care giver. In doing so, he compromises on a normal childhood life and activities.
4. May Develop Feelings Of Resentment And Anger
A study analysis shows that glass child may have to face complex and challenging emotions such as the guilt of being born normal. He may also develop feelings of resentment when he sees his disabled sister/brother taking almost all of his parents’ attention and energy.
Constant yelling, abusive behavior, loud tantrums and breakdown episodes of the disabled sibling may make the healthy child prone to anxiety and depression. This adds up to the frustration of being neglected and unseen.
He may develop feelings of deep chronic anger for not having a normal family, not being able to invite friends to home and not having a normal vacation.
5. May Appear To Be Fine Even When He Is Not
A glass kid may hide his problems and feelings because he doesn’t want to burden his already stressed out parents. In order to do that, he tries to ignore his own sentiments and emotions. With time he becomes so apt at it that when you ask him about it he assures you that everything is fine.
How to Bring A Change In The Life Of A Glass Child
A slightly different parenting approach, help from others and counselling on regular basis can make a difference in the life of a glass child.
Here are a few tips to help a Glass child in a way that his life may change in a better way forever.
1. Ensuring That The Glass Child Feels Heard And Seen
The first step to healing a glass child is removing emotional neglection from his life and making him feel like a normal child, whose existence is not taken for granted.
As a parent you can help him by
• Actively caring for his emotional needs by making him feel heard
• Assuring him regularly that he is valued and loved without having to be perfect at all times
• Including him in your decision and schedule planning, to keep him in the loop of whatever is happening.
• Setting half an hour aside everyday for one on one talking sessions
• Planning a sport or outdoor activity with one parent on weekly basis while the other parent may take care of the disabled child
• Taking parent turns to help him with his homework
2. Parents Should Take Help From Others Where Possible
When the needs of a disabled child are very consuming, it may be beyond the capacity of the parents to be present for the healthy child. At times like these, take assistance from relatives and friends, and ask them to include your healthy child in their vacation and family activities. If you don’t have time to help your child with maths homework, speak with his teachers about how a little extra help from them can improve your child’s grades.
3. Therapy Sessions, Support Groups And Counselling
If your child tells you he is doing fine, know that there is a high chance he might be trying to save you from further pain.
Just as Alicia Arena describes it, a glass child is going through almost same challenges of stress, fear and faith crisis as his parent and yet he only has his child brain to cope up with that. Take him to regular therapy sessions and help him join special support programes from people with similar experiences.
4. Role Of A Society In The Lives Of Glass Children
Healthcare workers and social workers catering to the needs and treatment of disabled child, should also try to make sure that the siblings of the disabled child are doing fine. They should make psychological assessments where necessary and draw attention of parents to emotional needs of glass child.
Parents with healthy families should educate their children about struggles of glass children, and encourage children to be a support system for them.
A family raising a disabled child needs constant strength and support and the energy, warmth and lively spirit of healthy children lighten up otherwise chaotic home.
Give these children unconditional love attention and care so that joy doesn’t leave your homes.
Also Read: The concept of accountability exists in every religion. Following are some of the ways based on core values to express love in different family roles.