Teachers with disabled child

Ways to Support Siblings of children with disability at school (Part 2)

Parents regularly raise with me the issue of siblings and school. See Part 1 of this blog School Choices, for some additional background information

For siblings, school can be a respite from any stresses at home but, on the other hand, for some, it can also be a different source of stress for them.

It is best if parents and the school can talk together to ensure the best outcomes for all children. If you are a parent, you might like to share these blogs with your children’s school(s). There is also information on the Siblings Australia website regarding why and how schools can support siblings..

At different times in their school life, siblings may experience:

  • Worry about their brother or sister with disability.
  • Difficulty finishing homework or homework being spoiled.
  • Tiredness or poor concentration
  • Social isolation
  • Teasing or bullying by other students (either towards their own brother or sister or themselves).
  • An extra sense of responsibility for their brother or sister or other students with disability.

I remember working with a young girl many years ago who had an older brother with severe autism. She struggled with friendships as she had not learnt the usual social skills to interact with her peers.

Bullying a child

These types of experiences might lead to poor mental health and wellbeing, misbehaviour or poor educational outcomes.

I have long argued the need for each school to have a register of children who are siblings; not to highlight them or to pathologise their experience, but just to note that they may need extra support, resilience building or coping strategies. I remember working with a school many years ago and, after a workshop for both parents and staff, the junior primary Principal approached me to say she could think of 4 children immediately that she would approach very differently, knowing they were each a sibling.

Effects of Bullying

Most children with disability have an individual education plan (IEP) developed each year – the plan outlines what extra support the child might need both academically and socially. Every sibling would be able to contribute to such a plan as they probably know their brother or sister better than anyone. But, ideally, there would be a plan for them too. The plan might support siblings academically and/or socially and provide them with relevant coping skills. It might also help to connect them to sibling support, either in the school and/or in the community. Schools are an ideal location for a SibWorks peer support program, as it connects children with other siblings in their own community.

Disabled Child Support At School

If you are a parent, it can be a constant struggle to advocate for your child to access appropriate disability support. But it is important to ensure that siblings are recognised for their possible contributions as well as having their own needs for support met.

Given the above, how can you assist your child’s school to support your sibling child?

  • If your child agrees, let the school know what the sibling might be experiencing at home or school. However, respect their need for privacy if they don’t wish to share this information.
  • You could suggest a disability awareness session at the school to assist all students to improve their understanding of disability and respond more appropriately to children with disability and their siblings.
  • Ask the school to connect you with other families that include a child with disability who has siblings.
Disabled Child At School
  • Suggest the school run a SibWorks program– they could collaborate with other schools if that would be easier.
  • Suggest the school library includes sibling related resources including books and movies, for staff and families to access.
  • Discuss with the school the level of responsibility you are happy for your sibling child to have in relation to their brother or sister or other children with disability.
  • If an IEP is developed for your child with disability, encourage the school to include siblings or to develop a separate one for them.

Again the Siblings Australia website has more information.

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