The burden of raising a child with a physical or mental disability does not fall on the parents alone, but rather every member of the family is affected, especially with the lack of services and the lack of comprehensive systems that support the needs of people with special needs. The term “glass child” or “the transparent or invisible child” refers to To this child’s siblings, the parents’ interests are focused on meeting his needs, and in return, they are often unable to give the other siblings the same amount of attention, just because they are apparently developing normally.
What is “transparent child” syndrome?
This term has been in use since 2010 at the international TEDx conference, when Alicia Maples, a certified business coach, spoke about her personal experience as a sister to an autistic sibling, and described herself and all siblings with special needs as “glass children.”
Maples did not use “glass” in reference to its fragility, but rather she meant the transparent and visible properties of glass to the point that you can see through it clearly as if it does not exist. By the same logic, these people have a feeling that they do not exist.
No one cares or listens
Director Stephen Shubsky dealt with this syndrome intelligently in his 2017 film “Wonder,” which was based on a true story and was portrayed by “Via,” the teenage sister, who was accustomed to having her brother, “Auggie,” who was born with congenital facial deformities, receive all the attention, to the point that her mother put her entire life on hold. For his sake, “Fia” showed during the events of the film the extent of her understanding and avoidance of complaining or expressing her life problems, so as not to burden her parents beyond their capacity, and because no one cares or listens to her, and she is often ignored. In one scene, she is forced to say to her brother, “The world… “It doesn't revolve around you.”
Psychological and behavioral disorders
Quoted from the “Life Hacker” website, the specialized clinical therapist, Jamie Domler, says that the experience of the “glass children” is completely parallel to the experience of their parents, as they both suffer from a mixture of feelings of sadness, confusion, loss, and anxiety, always mixed with their innate love for their brother. According to Domler, a healthy child tries to find a way to blame himself for his family’s problems, which reinforces his feeling of isolation and unwillingness to communicate with his peers who may not specifically understand the reality of his home life. To compensate for this, he indulges in daydreaming and creating imaginary worlds in his mind, and this appears more clearly during adolescence.
This was confirmed by a British study published in the Journal of Community Psychology in 2022, and showed that siblings of children – who suffer from a disease or disability – are more vulnerable to emotional neglect and ignoring feelings, and for this reason they always tend to isolate themselves, hide from sight, and not attract attention, and they feel constant guilt for not doing so. Their inability to provide adequate support to their siblings, they also face many behavioral and psychological disorders, such as anxiety and stress.
Consequences and consequences
Having a sibling with special circumstances enhances the values of empathy and responsibility, as well as enhancing coping mechanisms and dealing with problems. However, there are a set of feelings and challenges that are often ignored or misunderstood, and affect the psychological, social, physical, and cognitive health of the remaining siblings.
A meta-analytic review, which included 52 studies, found that these siblings are highly vulnerable to mental health disorders and psychological challenges, because they often suppress their emotions and feelings, and hesitate to seek help and attention from their parents who are burdened by the concerns of their sick brother.
Mental health experts explain a set of characteristics that invisible children share, including:
Striving for perfection and idealism: The “invisible child” tries to compensate for the feeling of being ignored and neglected by being an ideal and superior child. This is linked to the constant fear of failure, rejection, and making mistakes, which deprives him of spontaneity, creativity, and independent thinking.
feeling guilty: Feelings of resentment grow within him because his emotional needs are not met, and then he feels guilty because he is upset or because he does not appreciate the amount of responsibility placed on his parents.
Isolation and introversion: He loses interest in hobbies, misses a lot of activities, lacks social skills and establishing strong friendships, always pretends to be fine, remains silent about his own problems and needs, and is often afraid of taking risks, which may constitute an obstacle to his personal growth and societal progress.
Trying to please others: He prefers to avoid conflicts in order to maintain the peace of relationships, and is characterized by altruistic behavior that makes him feel loved and accepted.
Independence and responsibility: He learns “incorrectly” that his problems are small and do not require help, and he becomes self-reliant early on, such as preparing his own food or finishing his homework without supervision, and takes on more household burdens.
Stress and anxiety: He finds it difficult to express feelings of anger and frustration, which enhances feelings of despair, isolation, depression, and anxiety. This is indicated by a systematic review published in the journal Pediatrics in 2022 that concluded that siblings of children who suffer from chronic health problems are more vulnerable to depression.
How can parents support the “glass baby”?
Parents should be aware of the challenges their children face, and be careful to provide the necessary care and support, such as:
- Set aside time and a safe space to express feelings:
By sharing with the child the activities he prefers and that are appropriate for his age and interests. Emily Hall, director of the Sibling Support Project, tells the Parents website: It is enough to spend only 20 minutes with these children watching a favorite television program or series, or going for a walk and listening to them, for them to feel… How unique and solid they are.
- Encourage open communication and expression of themselves:
- Through joint diary writing, drawing or playing to find out what is going on in their heads, and try to find a solution to the conflicts within them.
- Motivate and encourage the practice of their own hobbies, and try to support them as much as possible and praise their achievements to enhance their self-esteem.
- Providing supportive environments to express their concerns through people they trust, or joining support groups that allow for sharing feelings and experiences without shame or fear of being judged.
- Consult a psychiatrist if necessary to avoid behavioral problems, such as aggressive tendencies, addiction, or suicidal thoughts.