Newsline Volume 31, Number 3

The Sibling Experience: What Parents Need to Know

By Janet Thibeau, Massachusetts Sibling Support Network

broter & sister surround wheelchair bound brotherWhat's it like to be a sibling who has a brother or sister with a disability? The good news is many develop into happy, compassionate, and insightful individuals. However, it can be difficult for a parent to know and anticipate all of the challenges involved in supporting their children who have brothers or sisters with disabilities. At times, siblings may feel confused, angry, and disconnected from their families.

How you respond to your child's disability will directly influence how your other children respond. Supporting siblings helps them grow into well-adjusted individuals, develop strong family and community ties, and have the skills to become an advocate for themselves and their brothers and sisters. Often parents have a vision for each family membe's role. At times, the role a parent has defined for a sibling is not the role that sibling wants to take. It's important to recognize siblings need a voice within their family.

Here are some ideas for parents to support their children who have brothers and sisters with disabilities.

Parents can help young siblings:

  • Develop positive relationships with their brother and sister

  • Explain their brother/sister's disability to friends

  • Explore friendships outside their family

Parents can help older siblings:

  • Continue to explore their interests and goals

  • Seek opportunities to connect with other siblings

  • Balance their own lives and their role as a sibling

  • Have opportunities to provide input about their role within the family, and if they want to be involved in their brother/sister's care

  • Navigate a world that defines "family" as "parents" and often leaves out siblings

  • Understand the medical, legal, and financial issues associated with their brother/sister's care.

It's important to give siblings a voice in these decisions, and also let them know they can change their minds as they grow up.

Massachusetts Sibling Support Network (MSSN)
Supporting siblings can seem overwhelming; however, you donít need to do it alone. The goal of the MSSN is to support siblings of individuals with disabilities in Massachusetts. We

  • Educate siblings about their role in the family and as caregiver

  • Create communities for siblings that support them through their lifespan

  • Improve access to existing sibling services

  • Work to expand the range of sibling services

The MSSN presented a topical conference call for the Federation's Family-to-Family Health Information Center. If you were unable to join this call, you can listen to the recording about The Sibling Experience and download more information at www.massfamilyvoices.org/Topical_Calls.html.

Additional Sibling Support Resources

SibParent - a listserv for parents to talk about their "other" kids at www.siblingsupport.org/connect/sibparent-a-listserv-just-for-parents.

Sibling Leadership Network - a national network that provides information, support, advocacy tools, and more at www.siblingleadership.org.

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Janet is the Vice President of Strategic Planning for the Massachusetts Sibling Support Network. She is also an adult sibling and mother of five children. To learn more about the MSSN, call 617-807-0558 or e-mail info@masiblingsupport.org.
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