While there are many joys of siblinghood, having a sibling with a disability comes with unique challenges and needs. Here are some of the things you can do to support the siblings in your life:
Provide Age-Appropriate Information: It’s important for siblings to understand the details of their sibling’s disability. Young children are often confused about what disabilities are and where they come from. Providing young sibs with information like the name of their sibling’s disability and some of their strengths and weaknesses will help their own sense of understanding as well as their confidence in advocating for their sibling. They’re probably mature enough to handle more than you think.
Individual Time with Parents: Siblings understand that their sibling with a disability might need more attention from their parents, but they still crave having their parent’s full attention every once and a while. Making time to spend a few hours specifically with your typically developing child will make them feel extra special and loved.
Relationships with Other Siblings: Many of their friends at school and church can’t relate to their experience as a sibling of someone with a disability. We all want to feel heard and understood. When siblings get a chance to meet each other, they often get a sense that someone else “gets it”.
Freedom to Live Their Own Life: Everyone has different strengths, weaknesses, talents, and goals. It is important to give siblings the freedom to choose their own path, even if it means participating in something that’s less accessible for their sibling with a disability. Although they care about their siblings deeply, they need permission to pursue whatever activities make them excited and passionate.
Being a sibling of someone with a disability is both rewarding and challenging. I encourage you to get to know the siblings in your life, appreciate the gifts they have to offer, and support them as they learn and grow.
Amanda Potthast is a speech pathology major at Calvin College. She is currently interning with the Reflectors Special Needs Ministry of Faith Church in Dyer, IN. She is passionate about sibs ministry, sharing her perspective and experience of having an amazing brother, Spencer, who has autism.