The SOF Team
Growing up with a sibling with disabilities: the difficulties and impact
Updated: Jun 4, 2022
Siblings of those with challenges can experience emotional and psychological effects which cannot be ignored
Image source: Rodnae
It is often that parents of children with challenges will educate themselves on the depth of their child's conditions and the factors that will come into play in their lives due to it. However, some parents of children with disabilities and challenges may forget to consider how society’s biases may affect their other children–the siblings.
Have they ever explained the extent of their sibling's condition? Do they have the capacity to understand (depending on their age)? Are they aware of how they and their sibling might be treated in public due to prejudice, or have they already experienced it?
There are many factors to consider when you have a child with a developmental disability, including providing additional support for their siblings. Often, a sibling can be pressured into feeling like a caretaker when that is not their responsibility. Other times, children may feel neglected or alone because their siblings with difficulties receive more attention from parents. The emotional and psychological effects can be substantial and cannot go ignored.
Image source: Verywell Family
Personal accounts of siblings with challenges:
One Reddit user accounted for their experience being a younger sibling of an individual with severe autism and how difficult it was to cope with at the time and even to this day. Their older sibling had an official, medically-recognized need for constant adult presence or supervision, attention, and care. Because of this, their parents spent the overwhelming majority of their time on this sibling and directed all of their attention on him. They explain that their brother could not even drink water without the assistance of an adult or caretaker.
As young as nine years old, they were asked to take care of their sibling alone––a task that is not easy to see through at such a young age. As a result, this left the younger sibling feeling neglected and alone. Their parents did not ask how they were feeling about things or check in on them regularly. As the sibling grew older, it took a long time to realize how much they were emotionally and physiologically affected by the absence of their parents in their lives. They wished they had just received the support they needed to thrive as much as their sibling had.
Another Reddit user explains how their best childhood friend had a sibling with severe autism and their experiences with him growing up. They detail their experience playing at their friend's house with her autistic brother. Their account mentions how her friend's brother enjoyed playing with LEGOs, so they would often sit and build LEGOs together, and she didn't mind the fact that he was there.
Image source: Ana Klipper
The individual explains how they witnessed their friend's mother learning to cope and manage to have a son with autism. The reddit user also mentions that the brother with autism attended the same school as them and was placed in the special education classrooms, but he felt he'd be okay to join the general education classes the first year of high school.
One day, they witnessed their friend's brother being bullied by a few high school kids. The bullies stole his LEGOs, and as a result, the brother panicked. Although the Reddit user explained they did not intervene at the moment, they did have to navigate explaining the situation to their friend and the special education teacher. They explained that this experience was unfortunate and made them feel bad, especially when they would leave for college and the brother would have no one to defend him in similar social situations.
Providing support for caregivers is not limited to the primary caregivers but everyone who is touched or impacted by a child with a difficulty. While many corporate sponsorships like SoF aim to benefit those with disabilities and impairments, it is essential to remember that their families and caretakers also need support and guidance. This does not mean just parents but siblings who have an experience completely separate from their parents in relation to their sibling.