Having a child with disability in the family affects every family member, including siblings. Most children adjust pretty well to having siblings with disability.
Upsides of having siblings with disability
There are many positives for your child in having a sibling with disability.
Families can get closer after the birth of a child with disability. Children who have a sibling with disability are often more caring and kind, sensitive and responsive to the needs of others, tolerant and compassionate, mature, appreciative of their own health, responsible, independent and empathetic.
How siblings might feel and think about disability
Siblings of children with disability have good times and not so good times, just like everyone else. It’s normal for your child to have lots of different feelings about your family situation.
Sometimes your typically developing child might feel happy about good things that happen – for example, when her brother or sister with disability starts to talk. At other times she might feel sad or angry about things that happen – for example, if her brother or sister with disability takes a toy, or goes into hospital.
Your child might feel proud of being the sibling of a child with disability and be pleased when his brother or sister learns a new skill – for example, climbing up a ladder at the playground, or being able to communicate wants and needs. Your child might also feel proud of understanding disability or being part of disability organisations.
Angry, resentful and jealous
Your child might think her sibling with disability is getting all the attention, or that family rules and responsibilities aren’t fair. She might be resentful if she thinks that her freedom is restricted, or that she has too much responsibility.
Embarrassed and guilty
Your child might be embarrassed about how his sibling looks and behaves in public, and what his friends might think. For example, he might think, ‘They won’t want to be my friend if they see my brother banging his head’. He might feel guilty about having these thoughts.
Your child might feel sad that her brother or sister can’t do as much as she can, or because she can’t play the same games with her brother or sister like other siblings can. She might just be sad because family life isn’t like it was before.
Scared and worried
Depending on your child’s stage of development, he might worry about whether he’ll get sick too, or about how sick his brother or sister is. Your child might also be scared about what will happen to him or his sibling and family in the future.
Your child might feel alone because ‘no one understands what it’s like’ to have a sibling with disability.
Your child might feel stressed for many reasons, possibly because she senses that you’re stressed, or she might be trying too hard to be good and not cause any trouble.
You can support siblings of children with disability by letting them know that it’s OK to sometimes feel angry and worried, and to sometimes feel happy and proud. All these feelings are normal and understandable.
What affects thoughts and feelings about siblings with disability
Many things can affect how siblings of children with disability think, feel and behave. Some are individual to your child like his age, personality, temperament and birth order. Other things outside your child can also affect how he feels.
If your child is older, she’s likely to find it easier to understand and adjust to the way things are. A younger child might be more worried about herself. For example, she might think, ‘Will I catch it?’
Older children are better at saying what their thoughts are and working through unhelpful thoughts. They’re probably better at talking about more complicated issues too.
Children born into a family in which a child with disability is their older sibling generally take it in their stride. They’ve never known any different. But it’s still important to be aware of their thoughts and feelings.
Type or severity of disability
Children often find it harder if their sibling has trouble communicating wants or needs or has challenging behaviour.
Medical and care needs
If your child with disability needs extra care and services, it might mean your family has to make changes that affect family routines and daily life. For example, it might affect getting to school on time, or it might change the activities you can all do together.
Family and parental wellbeing
How your family adjusts to having a child with disability, including your relationship with your partner, can influence your children’s well-being.
Video: Children with disability: helping siblings
In this video, parents and siblings of children with disability share their experience on how the disability has impacted their lives, and the adjustments they have to make.