Recently I was asked in a parent workshop whether I thought it best to send siblings to the same school when one has a disability. I wouldn’t give a definitive answer as there are many factors that influence such a decision, and it can be complex.
Whilst it might be easier for all children to go to the same school, there may be times when a child with disability will have their needs met more effectively at a different school from siblings.
On the other hand, some parents make the decision to send their children to separate schools as they think it is better for both children to be able to develop their own identity separately.
Below are some points for both parents and schools to consider when looking at the different options.
It can be helpful if the school knows the whole family, and this is easier if the children attend the same school.
- There can be a sense of community if children attend the same school.
- Siblings can readily share each other’s achievements if they are at the same school.
- Siblings may find comfort in being able to check on their brother or sister.
Siblings Australia offers a number of sibling support options.
On the other hand,
- Siblings, especially when younger, may spend more time with the child with disability and miss out on developing independent friendships.
- Siblings may find that it is difficult to develop their own identity e.g., they may be always known as ‘Johnny’s sister’.
- Siblings may feel greater responsibility for a child with disability if they are at the same school and it can be easy for school staff to call on siblings when there are difficulties with the child with disability.
- Some schools call on siblings to ‘look out for’ other children with disability as well given their experiences. (this is ok if the whole class takes turns to do this, so they learn the value of inclusion and being supportive of others, but not ok if siblings are singled out)
- Siblings may be subject to more teasing or bullying if they are at the same school.
- Siblings may need extra support to cope with embarrassment if the child with disability has challenging behaviours.
It can be helpful if parents and school staff can come together to discuss the needs of all the children. Will the school be able to cater for the needs of each child, in relation to school outcomes, student mental health and wellbeing?
If brothers and sisters are able to develop their own identity, have their own friends and are not burdened by responsibility, then it can be of great benefit for everyone if children attend the same school. The Student Support Plan for children with disability (NEP in some States) provides an ideal opportunity to monitor possible issues for siblings at the same time. It is important to respect the sibling’s need for privacy in all of these discussions.
If a sibling can access support it can strengthen the relationship with their brother or sister with disability and lead to benefits for the whole family.
There is also further information for parents and educators on the Siblings Australia website. Also the online learning program SibWise can assist both parents and schools to better understand the sibling experience.
Part 2 of this blog will explore further how schools might support siblings.