Rule of thumb…never bring a xylophone to an intervention visit when there are siblings in the mix.
This was one of my biggest rules when I was working in EI and still lugging around a toy bag. Ages ago I had a visit where I brought the xylophone along and the preschool-aged brother of the child I was seeing spent the ENTIRE next 60 minutes banging on it. Painful for me but so much fun for the two of them. While I learned that musical instruments were not my thing (and shortly thereafter learned to leave the whole toy bag at the office), I learned a more important lesson. The brother was fantastic at getting his younger sibling to make sounds and get engaged, a much more skillful teacher than me (despite, or maybe because of, the marvelous noise they made together)!
Unfortunately some interventionists, particularly those who practice a more traditional, clinical approach, still recommend for parents to keep siblings out of the visit so that the interventionist can “work” with the other child. Now that we know that the best way to “work” with an infant or toddler is through his/her family and their daily routines, early interventionists need to jump into those routines and find ways to include everyone in the intervention. Siblings often have a remarkable way of knowing how to get their brothers/sisters to communicate, interact, and play. They are often hungry to get involved. Get them on your side, make them feel like they are important members of the team, and see what happens!
Here are a few strategies for adding siblings to the mix.
Explain Why Involving the Sibling is Important
Parents may think that the sib will be “in the way” so it’s your job to explain how this isn’t true. Help the parent see how the sibling can be involved and how this benefits the child. After all, the sibling is the child’s most natural and accessible playmate during the rest of the week!
Watch Them Play
First, sit back and watch how the siblings play with each other. Find out what they like to do together and build on that. Ask the sibling to show you the child’s favorite toys and games. Watch for how they motivate and engage each other.
Keep It Simple
Ask the sibling to hold the rattle so that the baby can track it. Show the sibling how the child communicates by moving her arm (maybe for a child with multiple disabilities). Teach the sibling how to use “hand-over-hand” support to help the child activate toys. Teach turn-taking games. Make it fun. The sibling might only want to play for a few moments and that’s okay too.
Follow-Up with the Sibling at the Next Visit
When you ask the parent how the week went, don’t forget to ask the sibling too. It can be easy for a sib to feel left out with so much focus on the child with the delay or disability. Help him feel important and involved, and you just might be helping forge a bond between the children that will last!
How have you involved siblings in visits? Do you have a great success story about involving siblings? Or maybe a xylophone story of your own (we all have them)? Share your thoughts!