“What about me? Aren’t I special?’
How to help brothers and sisters adapt
Brothers and sisters of kids with disabilities have many of the same feelings and concerns as parents, but their needs are often overlooked, says the director of the Sibling Support Project in Seattle, Washington.

“The first thing we do for parents of a child with a newly diagnosed disability is to hook them up with a parent support group,” says Don Meyer. “Siblings need the same kind of peer support but routinely are denied this consideration.”

According to the Sibling Support Project, brothers and sisters may feel:

  • Anxious about what the disability or condition means – and whether they can “catch it.”

  • Worried about their siblings future. Isolated if friends don’t understand.

  • Guilty because they don’t have the condition.

  • Embarrassed if they have to cope with negative comments from peers.

  • Resentment if parents attention revolves around the child with a disability or the child is indulged. “Johnny’s ‘special’. How come Johnny doesnt have to carry groceries up the stairs?”

See What parents can do (right) for tips on minimizing these concerns.

It’s important to remember that research shows that siblings of kids with disabilities also have unique opportunities that shape their lives in positive and profound ways: compared to their peers, they are more accepting of differences and more likely to include others, more mature and independent, and they have a greater appreciation for their families and for their own health.

A 2004 Journal of Family Nursing study found school-age children who have siblings with multiple disabilities scored significantly higher in co-operation, assertiveness and self-control than peers with typically-developing siblings.


What parents can do

Set aside time to explain the disability and answer questions. For example, preschoolers need to know they can’t catch, and didn’t cause, the disability. School-aged kids need coaching in how to respond to questions from their friends. Ask the social worker at your children’s treatment centre for help.

Parents know the value of sharing experiences with other parents of kids with disabilities. Peer support is equally important for siblings. Ask your social worker about sibling workshops or get together with other families of kids with disabilities. Books about siblings and SibKids, an e-mail listserve, can be found at The Sibling Support Project.

Pay attention
Because they can feel neglected, set aside one-on-one time with siblings.

Make future plans
Make and explain plans about the long-term care of your child with special needs.

Set the tone
How you interpret your child’s disability shapes siblings’ perceptions and ability to adapt. Do you perceive the disability as a tragedy, or as a series of challenges you choose to meet with grace and humour?

Bloorview Kids Rehab | Bloorview’s Resource Centre