Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Preparing Your Special Needs Child for a New Sibling

About 2 years ago, my husband and I were preparing for the birth of our second son. Our first, Landon, was around 4 at the time and had received a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. While we read a lot of books and prepared ourselves for the baby, I wondered how much preparation my Landon would need and whether or not I could find a class he could take or if I would need to teach him myself. 

Eventually, I psyched myself up and decided to teach him all about babies. I figured that since I was a teacher anyway, that wouldn't be too far out of my skill set. I bought a life-like baby doll and we both began our hands-on training: diapering, holding, and even bathing the little babe. Landon did try with it, but soon became bored. I, on the other hand, became attached to the thing and carried it around with me as if though it needed constant loving and attention (thanks hormones). 

Here is what Landon and I both learned worked best when preparing for our new baby. 

1. Hands-on prep with a real baby is a great start! 
I know you might be a little worried about this one, so start slowly. Have a friend come visit and bring her baby. When my good friend introduced us to her new son, I watched as Landon took everything in; the baby's coos and cries, how he had his diaper changed, and even how he was eating. He even helped catch the pacifier every time the baby spit it out, and came with us if we needed to walk around to soothe the little guy. I should have thought to have him hold his doll at the same time, but we practiced everything we saw with our "baby" as soon as my friend had to leave. 

2. Read new siblings books together. 
I loved going to the library with Landon and picking out those sweet books. Get a few of them to rotate, and create that special reading time together. Landon and I still read every night before bed and he likes to pick between two, just like he did with those baby books. You can also look at your child's baby book together and talk about how your child has grown. Savor those moments! 

3. Create special outings for just the two of you. 
Begin a special date night for the both of you, and make that a tradition. It doesn't have to be fancy-a picnic at the park or a frozen yogurt night. Landon loves to go and pick all his favorite toppings, while arranging them just so. Whatever he was into at the time, we did on date night. We even had a crazy coin night! (the boy loves his coins) Once the baby comes, try to keep those date nights at home since you will need the rest, but do have them. We still have what we call a "sheet dinner," a tradition my mom started where you put a sheet down on the living room floor and eat nachos or something messy while watching a movie. Make it easy and fun! 

4. Enroll your child in an activity that is just for him. 
This one is also important because often when a new baby arrives,  schedules and activities get thrown thrown out of wack. We enrolled Landon in swimming lessons every Wednesday and established that as part of the weekly routine. Once the baby came, my husband would take him to swimming after he got home from school. Landon really enjoyed going to swim class and having his own special time with his dad as well. I highly recommend asking places if they offer a special needs discount-we were able to get our classes at 50% off! 

5. Join a special needs support group. 
We are truly warrior moms and we all get it. There are quite a few Facebook groups just for us, and these are safe places to ask questions, share resources and activities, and create new friendships. We had one mommy share with us how overwhelming it was getting with her new baby and older children, and quite a few moms in her area signed up on Care Calendar to help her with meals and childcare! Support groups are truly an awesome way to share knowledge, especially if something comes up and you have questions for those who have been there. 

6. Prepare the house early. 
Some of our kiddos are very resistant to change. They need time to process everything that is new and will slowly acclimate themselves to the changes. I don't recommend switching their rooms or changing anything else that is already a part of a well established routine. Schedules can become impossible, but routines provide structure and this is critical for a smooth transition. We started setting up the nursery slowly, letting Landon help us whenever we could. He also knew that he could go in when he wanted and look at everything, and we'd often find him in there inspecting the crib or the dresser. Have your child be your special helper when setting everything up and make sure that he feels welcome in the nursery. 

7. Sign your child up for a siblings class, if you can. 
Sometimes, this isn't an option depending on where we live, or we worry that our children will not do well in a large setting that the classes take place in. I personally teach a class here in Sugar Land, in which I will go to the home where the kids feel most comfortable and will tailor the class to meet their needs. See if you can find someone locally who is willing to offer a private class such as this. Talk to your child's teachers or therapists and see if they have recommendations. You can even ask in those support groups we talked about earlier! 

8. Prepare ahead of time for challenging behaviors.
Oh, the big kahuna! Here is how I did this. I listed out all the behaviors that Landon typically exhibited when he was frustrated or mad: head hitting, throwing objects, yelling, etc. Then I wrote down exactly how we would handle them in a productive matter. Think end-game; what behaviors do you want to see from your child? So when Landon would hit his head, we would silently redirect him and then show him a more appropriate way to handle frustration (asking for help, going to another room to calm down). If he was throwing things, we would have him help us pick them up. The important thing is to determine why your child is engaging in these behaviors. Are they for your attention? Is there something they are trying to escape (crying, noise)? Do they need something and can't ask for it? It isn't always easy, but try to maintain a positive response to those behaviors. Teach your child what you want him to do instead. 

9. Treat each other with kindness. 
Having a new baby can be a tough time for everyone, especially those first few sleepless nights. Ask for help if you need it. Talk to your child about how you are feeling and let them know that even though you are tired, you are so glad to have some time with them. Be patient with each other and go outside to soak up some sunshine when you get overwhelmed. Give little acts of love like bear hugs, tickles, and kisses. Most of all, enjoy this time together-our babies will grow so quickly.  

10. Have a box of your child's favorite things for right after the baby is born! (thank you Adriana Castorena for this one!)

Save anything your child absolutely loves or loves to do in a box. You can also write a list of fun activities and include this in there. When the baby is born, pull out that special activities box and let your child have fun with Dad or another relative while you rest. You can even add something your child can work on, like a picture book about their new role as a big brother or sister! 

I truly hope this post was helpful. Having a new baby was definitely a learning experience for us and it has been so fun watching the boys grow that brotherly bond. Landon will even let brother give him a high-five now, and will help me with changing diapers and picking up toys. Just remember that those bonds take time to grow and that initial behaviors will change as your children get older. Congratulations on your growing family and the best of wishes from our family to yours!