Sibling struggles


Brothers and sisters of disabled children often suffer as much as the disabled child.

My oldest child has global learning delay so he attends a special needs school. We are lucky as my youngest son has always just accepted him the way he is, as it’s all he’s ever known. My oldest son doesn’t have medical needs and he is a very easy going child. Other families of disabled children may be in very different situations which may make life more difficult for the siblings.

Disabled children often have complex health needs, meaning that the parents have less time to spend with siblings. On top of this, they also often have complex learning needs and parents have to devote time to fighting to get much needed support for their disabled child. All this has a huge effect on the sibling who may feel they don’t get enough attention. The Government is currently cutting much needed respite care which will only exacerbate the problem.

It is extremely important for the mental health and wellbeing of the sibling that parents spend regular and frequent one-to-one time with their non-disabled siblings. If they are available to do so, grandparents of disabled children could play an important role here in caring for their disabled grandchild and allowing their children to spend time with the non-disabled children. For this to happen effectively, grandparents would need support and training in caring for disabled children, as many don’t feel confident in doing so. If grandparents can’t provide support in this way, then even fifteen minutes a day one-to-one time would benefit the family.

Isolated and confused

Siblings of disabled children also suffer from isolation as a result of bullying at school about their disabled brother or sister. Imagine if you had a disabled sibling whom you loved very much, it would come as a shock to you if other people showed hostility to them. This makes the siblings very confused and they might find it difficult to talk about their feelings. It is vital that they get the right support to be able to open up to someone about this. On top of this, other issues may crop up, such as lack of sleep, difficulty doing homework and worry over their sibling’s problems. It’s essential for parents to overcome these issues quickly. Parents should also allow siblings to express negative feelings as well as positive ones.

Another thing that siblings of disabled children struggle with is guilt over what is happening to their beloved sibling and concern that it may happen to them too. It is extremely important that parents of disabled children are open and honest about disability and take time to explain the situation to the whole family. This will alleviate worry for the siblings. It’s also a good idea to keep the sibling regularly updated with new developments in their brother or sister’s condition, as well as improvements.

Encourage the siblings to bond. Show them activities they can do together to build a positive relationship between them. With this in mind, allow the sibling to decide how to divide their time between being with their brother or sister and spending time with other friends.

Finally, make sure you are a good role model for your child by taking time to enjoy doing things you’re passionate about. It is OK to get on with your own life and move towards achieving your own aspirations. Doing so will encourage your children to do the same.

Further information

Jane Gill is a freelance writer who blogs about the challenges faced by families of children with SEN:

Please note: the people pictured are not those mentioned in the article.

Jane Gill
Author: Jane Gill

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