Most siblings who have a brother or sister with disability are able to say there were good and not so good parts to their experience. Nonetheless, many do experience stresses. As a parent you cannot entirely remove these challenges, but you can help your child better manage them. Often the first step is ensuring siblings feel listened to and understood. With support, siblings can make a great life for themselves and build a strong relationship with their brother or sister.
Many siblings can reflect positively about their experiences growing up, saying they developed a range of skills and attributes, as well as a strong bond with their brother or sister with disability.
“My sister made me who I am”.
But siblings can also experience difficulties. There can be confusion over the feelings that arise. On the one hand they may feel love and protection towards their brother or sister, but they can also feel resentment, fear, guilt, embarrassment and sorrow about what is happening around them. If children are not able to express their emotions and gain support, they can become at risk for a range of emotional, mental and physical health problems into adulthood.
You can read more in the sibling section.
Support for siblings helps them to feel less isolated and to be more able to manage any challenges. They will feel more important in the family, more confident to seek out assistance from trusted people in their lives. They will be less likely to develop their own health problems down the track and be more able to pursue their own life opportunities. With support, they can develop a strong relationship with their brother or sister.
Parents can understandably be overwhelmed at times by the magnitude of their responsibilities, especially when a child has disability. Support for siblings has the benefit of strengthening relationships between family members. Parents report that support for siblings has helped them to communicate more effectively together – parents are more aware of what all their children need. This can make parents feel more competent in their parenting role.
For the person with disability
Siblings are likely to have the longest relationship of any with the person with disability. If we can nurture that relationship from early on, then it is likely that the sibling relationship will be more enduring and mutually sustaining. Many parents report that siblings interact more with their brother or sister after they attend a sibling support program. In the longer term, a sibling can play an important role in the social and emotional wellbeing of the person with disability.
For the community
If siblings are supported, they are more likely to want to stay involved in the life of their brother or sister with disability, ensuring greater social inclusion and safety for people with disability. This can lead to greater independence of people with disability and less dependence on the disability industry. With support, siblings are also less likely to develop longer term health concerns such as depression or anxiety, which cost the community through medical and social services. Also, siblings may learn a lot of skills through their childhood experiences and, if supported, are likely to contribute to the community in very useful ways.