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Parenting kids with different needs fairly

Community Member

I am a single mother with 2 girls (17 and 18Yrs). The youngest is a self isolating ASD level 2 with a PDA profile. Her life is shaped by extremely high anxieties, sensitivities and doesn't respond to any discipline or routine therapies. Low demand is the recommended approach which really upsets the 18 year old. I have reduced demands on her as well and try to treat her as much as I can but she does have a few chores and expectations or I would feel I was failing her as a parent. Both kids have regular therapy sessions and the specific needs of the youngest have been explained to the eldest but she still feels it is unfair. Covid and the marriage break up (3.5 yrs ago) have been very traumatic for everyone.

My youngest paces around the living room to self regulate but she likes to be alone when she does it. My eldest will frequently position herself in her path just to take a stand that it is her house too. This leads to serious escalation in the youngest which is very scary. It is like the elder is trying to train her sister but it actually increases her stress and puts relationships built up with good deeds, back to square one.

My eldest is currently not talking to me after I made her leave the lounge room last night. What should I do to create harmony in the household?

9 Replies 9

Blue Voices Member
Blue Voices Member

Hi Lily kitten it can be such a challenge as a parent who have special needs to know how to parent them.Being a parent is hard at best of times.I have two children on the spectrum and other special needs.Its not easy at all.I find as a parent I just parent to the way I feel comfortable to and not to take on the expert's advice to the letter as this seems to never work out and makes things worst.Know one knows your kids as well as you do and need to work out what works and what dosnt.Your children are at the age where they are becoming adults and you need to treat them like that and they also need to treat you with respect.

I hope you can find a middle ground to be able for you all to get along.

Take care,


OK just happened. 17 yr old Autistic kid is lying under the aircon in the living room but it is not turned on. 18 year old is in the next room and wants the aircon on and the door opened to cool down her side of the house. Autistic kid refuses. 18 year old takes the control and turns it on. 17 year old climbs on a chair and turns it off (huge argument). I suggest they swap rooms but neither wants to move. I offer either of them my bedroom which has an aircon and I will move. No one wants to move. I threaten not to take either of them out this afternoon as I had promised. Older child gives in but in a huff and wont talk about it.

Blue Voices Member
Blue Voices Member
That is really a difficult situation.You do need to stand your ground.You really have tried to make things better.They need to learn to respect you and their sister.Stand your ground and not take them out if they won't compromise.

Community Champion
Community Champion

Hi lilykitten

I am sorry you are having some trouble at home.

None of my family is autistic, but I am the eldest of 2 sisters. My younger sister tends to get away with things for no good reason, and it really annoys me. I feel like I do so much around the house to help and my mum never tells her off for things i would've been crucified for at her age...so, given your eldest's age, she might be feeling like things are a bit unfair. I know she knows this is due to your other child's autism, but she might lose sight of it at times.

I think the best approach would be to sit down with her and have an honest chat about what she would like from you, and that you have to be different in your discipline approach to the youngest due to autism.

I hope things start to improve,

Jaz xx

Hi lily kitten

I’m a mum of two adult children, one of whom (my youngest) fell seriously ill with OCD at age 13. OCD is a serious, chronic and sometimes disabling illness. It’s a long story, but my youngest was very ill for over a year, hospitalised and then faced a long road to recovery.

Your story about the AC really resonated with me, as I’ve been in very similar situations many times.

Sometimes I used to feel that my eldest (at age 15) would deliberately create situations just to see how I would react. Like a crazy test to see who I loved more. Might sound strange but I would feel like I was deliberately being pulled in two. It was so very painful.

I sat my eldest down and fell on my sword. I apologised for making my youngest’s needs a constant priority and explained why I had I to ensure our home was always a safe place for my youngest to be. He didn’t really get it or didn’t want to get it because he was hurt and felt abandoned.

The situation was unfair to both of them. We went to a family counsellor and talked it all through. First the two of us, then my husband joined in and finally my youngest.

It was a really important opportunity for the oldest to vent, us to repair our relationship and most importantly for my eldest to learn about his sister’s mental health condition. As he gained understanding his empathy for my youngest and I grew. The nonsense stopped and the eldest actually joined his sister’s support team.

Hang in there. You’re not alone and it can get better.

Kind thoughts to you

Spl spl
Community Member

Hi Lily, I hope you have been going okay. Feel free to update back here anytime if it's helpful to you, we are here to listen.


Your post stood out to me because I have PDA myself. Kudos to you for reducing demands on your PDA teen by the way, love to see it. As someone who has siblings (who don't have PDA) I really wonder what's going on here. Its possible for siblings to get along just fine even if one of them has PDA. Especially since you have clearly explained things to your eldest. I've seen my siblings who don't have PDA take on responsibilities on their own because they live their own lives. It means there's always someone cooking something, and so even if getting food is hard for me that day, they will hand me a taco or whatever. I have so much free time, that people know they can come to me and we can just talk emotions for a few hours, or help them out, it's no problem. Every family is different and as you said, yours has gone through a difficult time. I've just seen it work, so I don't know if only the differences between a PDA and non-PDA teen would cause arguing, you know what I'm saying? Maybe it is the case, I can't tell from over the internet.


I did have an idea from reading your post though. Please take this with a grain of salt. I'm also aware that several months have passed and this post may not even be your situation anymore, so sorry if this isn't applicable. This is not a hard and fast rule, and it's not scientific in the slightest, just from word of mouth. If you have two PDA children what happens? Apparently, they fight in order to control their respective enviornments. If they don't know they have PDA, they trigger each other, because telling others what to do is one way of controlling that fear. Maybe there's a reason she doesn't feel that it's fair, and maybe its not PDA, but it could be something. Just an idea. Naturally fighting isn't the only thing that can happen, the opposite can happen as well. One can get very attached to the other, especially when young, or they can have just a genuine close friendship. Or anything else. People are people. I've just heard that first example quite a bit, so I had to mention it. 


I hope you and your family are able to find the harmony you are searching for. It is possible and you can do it.



Community Member

Perhaps looking at creating a room solely for the eldest, that is her place that she doesn't have to worry about what mood your younger daughter is.


Or try scheduled times for the living room until they both learn to share the space.



Valued Contributor
Valued Contributor

Children often like to feel that they are number one in their parents eyes, and if their younger sibling has special needs they often feel as though they get more “attention” although it’s not technically attention, it’s just they may some more needs. But teenagers aren’t great at seeing things that way and so lash out. I think your eldest is craving some one on one time with you. She is now realistically at the age where you can both go out for coffee and a shopping day. Have lunch and tell her that you know it’s hard, it’s hard on all of you but that you could really use her help. Let her explain her feelings and try and see her perspective, make her feel heard. You may expect more from her, but that’s because you know what she’s capable of. Your job as a mum is to make sure that your children are fulfilling their potential but that differs individually. When we start treating teenagers as adults they can sometimes surprise us and step up. These are just some suggestions 

Valued Contributor
Valued Contributor

Further to my previous post, I think your answer also lies in the topic of your post - how do you parent your children with different needs fairly. Emphasis on the word ‘fairly’. Your daughter mistakenly believes that to be fair, you need to parent them evenly. However, that is not correct because they are starting at different baselines. It’s like someone with a broken leg being treated exactly the same in a race as someone who is perfectly able-bodied, the able bodied person is going to have a natural advantage. So if you treat them evenly that will in all reality unfairly disadvantage your other daughter. I think a lot of people have difficulty grasping this concept and this can be a great opportunity for discussions around how to treat people with disabilities in general, and equity versus equality