If you are a parent of a child with disability, my assumption is that you have received support from other parents who have been on a similar journey. Parents tell me that it helps enormously to be in contact with others who have ridden the same ups and downs and just ‘get it’. They feel they can share feelings that they wouldn’t with parents who don’t have a child/children with disability and can learn about useful services/resources and what tactics have helped them.
It is the same for siblings. Sadly, very few siblings have contact with other siblings of people with disability. But when they do they say things like, ‘you can just feel it there’, ‘you can say things and people don’t laugh’, ‘it helps to know I am not the only one’, and so on.
Peer Support For Adult Sibs
The Siblings Australia closed Facebook group, SibChat, for adult siblings has been running for many years now, and has over 740 members and it is an active supportive group. Just today someone responded to a sib who had posted for the first time, with a caring acknowledging response: ‘You sound overwhelmed. I hope you are okay. You will always be heard in this space’.
Time and time again sibs gain solace from knowing they are not alone – they can vent, they can ask questions or they support others. Some have described it as a ‘lifesaver’.
My own journey to understanding my experience as a sib started out about 25 years ago while I was in the US. I came across an online support group, started reading lots of books about and by siblings and for the first time in my life felt truly seen and heard. I went on to write my siblings book, Siblings (Wakefield Press) and established Siblings Australia. Internationally, most of the sibling support programs are run by siblings, and they all understand and promote the value of peer support. Similarly, staff at Siblings Australia have lived experience of disability as either the sibling or parent of someone with a disability.
If you are an adult sib, seek out ways to connect with other sibs, details about our adult support groups are available here
As sibs have said, ‘No-one knows a sib like another sib.’
Peer Support For Young Sibs
Many years ago, I co-wrote the SibWorks peer support program for 8-12 year old siblings. Last year, we finished a major review and developed an online training program for facilitators, you can read more about SibWorks here
The aim of the support group is to help siblings to feel less alone, to learn coping strategies, improve their mental wellbeing and assist with resilience building. When siblings are recognised and supported in this way they often connect with their brother or sister more positively.
If a child shares a problem with the group, for example, ‘my brother ruined my homework again’, it can be helpful to hear another child say, ‘oh my brother does that too’. Children can feel immediate strength in knowing they are not alone in their experiences. If a young child is experiencing bullying, it can lessen the impact if another child shares their own coping strategies, rather than an adult giving advice.
Some children can feel badly about their mix of feelings; alongside love, there may also be anger, resentment or jealousy. Whilst these are things all siblings feel, siblings can still feel guilty when it is in relation to a child with disability. A peer support group can help to normalise those feelings and help a child learn ways to manage.
The other big benefit of sibling peer support is that it gives them a sense of value. They see their brother or sister receiving so many different disability supports, just for them. Of course, a young child does not distinguish attention for positive things from those that are less than positive (e.g. hospital visits, appointments etc). A sibling group can assist them to feel special; that this is something just for them and may help with their mental well-being.
If you are a parent, encourage professionals with whom you interact to run SibWorks. It can be run by disability agencies, psychologists or other individual therapists, or schools. Schools are a great venue for SibWorks because it helps children to connect with other siblings in their local community.