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Racheal Siegel

Racheal Siegel is the mother of a child with developmental disabilities and a typically developing child. She is also an education consultant who works one-on-one with families to support children with learning differences, social-emotional challenges, and physical disabilities. She protects, informs, and advocates for the educational rights of disadvantaged youth and children with disabilities. Previously Racheal served as a Learning Center Director and Regional Learning Center Manager for Lindamood-Bell. In the interview, she discusses how her older daughter's developmental disabilities impacted her younger daughter and gives advice for parents navigating a similar situation.

Interview 7/14/23

Background: I have a daughter myself who has special needs. And I have two daughters. They're very close in age, they're about a year and a half apart. My older daughter struggles with dyslexia, significant ADHD, and OCD behaviors. And then my younger one is considered above average academically and everything naturally comes easier to her. So it made it challenging because my younger could read before my older daughter could read well. So, my background in working with students with special needs goes way back, about 25 years. I started working while I was in my undergraduate school at a hospital with babies who had different disabilities. And then I continued to pursue my degree in special education, and then child psychology. As I started working in a few schools, I realized I wanted to make a bigger difference in terms of really changing the way people thought about education, and how we educate our teachers. And so I started doing individual tutoring, I worked for a company that put together different technology for teachers to use in the classroom. And then I was the director of a company that works with students with learning differences ranging from autism to traumatic brain injury, to dyslexia, math, everything. And then I started working for a special education law firm, to help support families who needed more than what the school district was able to give them or needed other resources in terms of getting services at private schools or within their own district. And then recently, I started my own special education advocacy and consulting company during COVID. 


I have joined parent groups and the biggest thing that I’ve noticed, from a parent's perspective, is a feeling of guilt for giving so much time to a child who has special needs. You can often feel like you're neglecting the other child right? Because you're just spending so much time it can be so honestly exhausting. And so what I found with parents that I've talked to and with my own daughter was, it was really important for my younger daughter to get one on one time. So really, from age three on we would where we would separate the kids on Sundays, their dad would take one and I would take the other. And we still do that to this day. So they get really some individualized time to themselves where all the focus is on them.


The other thing that I really noticed was, it's hard for the siblings to fight. It's natural, right? And they also want to play together and hang out. And so they're always communicating. And for my younger daughter, it wasn't intentional, but she was always correcting my daughter who was special needs. For example, she would correct her older sister when she was trying to read out loud. And so I would notice that and I would go to her and tell her to let me do it. So it almost felt like I was reprimanding her. And from I think from her perspective, she was like I’m trying to read the words too. She wanted to show how well she could read at a young age. And she wasn't able to shine as much, I think in moments. Because when she was shining, it often meant my other daughter was feeling less than her because her younger sister was teaching and correcting her. And most kids don't want to be corrected by their younger sibling. I've talked to other parents about how important it is to find moments to not only explain what their sibling is going through that has learning differences, but to say, I bet that was hard, right? And let them have the space to talk about it and try not to minimize their feelings. 


The other thing is that we spend on therapy for our children who have learning differences and/or social and emotional needs. But the sibling also needs support with somebody to talk to outside of the home. They need tools to help manage their emotions and navigate their sibling's challenges and reactions. We kind of take for granted that the sibling will get through it and that it will make them stronger. But when you're young, you're your brain doesn't think about the big picture and the long-term gains. The siblings try and be the strong ones. They often don’t want to make extra trouble because they see how challenging it already is for their parents. But then certain feelings can really be pushed down. I think it's also important for parents to talk to the teachers, and even coaches about what that other sibling is going through and what their home setting is like. Just giving the teacher and the people that are supporting that other child a heads up because a lot of people don't think to do that. It's good for them to understand the dynamics of what's happening behind what they can see.

think it's really important to find time for the sibling to be out of the house. Whether it's playgroups or other extracurricular activities. It's just finding those resources where they can have an outlet and aren’t always around their sibling. I think journals are really great for kids to be able to have something to write in and talk about frustrating times.

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