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Having a Disabled Sibling: The Benefits and Challenges


My brother, Nee

My readers know me as a man with a disability.  What some of you may not know, I am also a sibling to a man with a disability.  Thinking about our relationship and my experiences with him prompted me to dig deeper into the issues of siblings with disabilities.  Having a child with a disability impacts the entire family, especially siblings. 

I became a sibling when my brother, Nghia, came into our family when I was seven years old.  I wanted a sibling and was very excited.  I remember suggesting to my mom and dad that we name him Hunter, because I really loved that name!  My mom and dad pointed out the issues that would arise from having two sons with the same name.  We all settled with Chase.  However, because he was already five, we continued to call him by his given Vietnamese name, Nghia (pronounced nee-a). 

Sad boy

Nee had a hard adjustment when he joined our family.

When we first met, the brotherly bond was not there.  We were both really shy.  Nghia had a difficult time adjusting to our home.  I personally found my new sibling to be humorous.  I loved the way he called me “Hunters” and the way he ran the occasional sitters crazy!  As time went on my parents became concerned when he did not pick up on English.  They also became concerned about the behavior I seemed to find funny.  When Nghia was 7, I became a sibling of a disabled brother when he was diagnosed with a profound hearing loss.  He also continued to have behaviors associated with an attachment disorder. When Nghia entered school, his learning and cognitive issues came to light. 

I would say that having a sibling with disabilities has taught me so much. Over the years, his struggles have taught me to be more empathetic, sympathetic, loving, and caring. Of course, like many siblings, this doesn’t mean we haven’t had our fair share of fights, usually over the remote.  As most siblings, we put our heads together, or lack thereof, to get into mischief. Having cerebral palsy made sign language impossible for me.  However, we found a way to communicate. 


Fun times!

Reflecting back to my evolving relationship with my disabled sibling made me wonder what would it be like if a completely abled bodied person, had a sibling with a disability?  I think people assume that when you’re disabled yourself that you automatically know how another disabled person thinks and feels. Nothing could be further from the truth. Just like I don’t know what it’s like to be hard of hearing like my brother, he doesn’t know what it’s like to be physically disabled. Therefore, we’ve had to work very hard over the years to communicate and understand each other.    

I did some investigating and uncovered interesting findings in regards to siblings of disabled children. Some studies suggest that having a disabled sibling can teach the basics of emotional sensitivity such as empathy, sympathy, and compassion. Siblings of disabled children have a better sense of responsibility for themselves and for others. Additionally, siblings of a disabled child tend to have deeper bonds and connections with others. These attributes gained by having a sibling with a disability can make an individual a better parent themselves. Siblings of a disabled child tend to be more independent and mature compared to those who don’t.  Perhaps the most important characteristic of siblings of a disabled child is they tend to be less self-centered and more affectionate towards others.  They are more likely to be driven and motivated to succeed.

We worked together to wash my mom’s jeep.

These benefits can also come with a price. The challenge of having a disabled sibling can put mental and financial stress on the sibling and their families. Siblings also have a higher chance of developing mental illness as a result of these stresses. Siblings of a disabled child are more likely to be jealous, resentful and angry. “Why me?” becomes a question asked by the entire family.  Siblings of a disabled child may even be too young to understand the gravity of the situation and may lash out as a result.  Another common problem of having a sibling with disabilities is not have enough time with parents, mostly because of the large amount of medical problems someone with disabilities can have. Disturbingly, there also tends to be an increase in violence among siblings.  Issues like violence and overwhelming stress need to be addressed immediately.

By Sarah Peralta

Fortunately, there are many ways to avoid and resolve many of these challenges.  Experts recommend having one-on-one time with non-disabled children in the family.  Finding something special to do with your non-disabled children will reduce the jealousy and resentment.  Keeping the lines of communication open is so important.  Siblings of a disabled child need to be able to vent and express their feelings openly, which gives them a voice in a situation they have no control over.  Even with the most helpful and mature sibling, it is important to make sure they are given the opportunity to just be a kid.  It is important that siblings of a disabled child are not given too much responsibility and given frequent breaks.  Most important, all children, abled and disabled just need love and acceptance from parents. 

By Brian Skotko, Susan P. Levine

Seeking out family counseling is important for all family members.  A counseling setting can give siblings of a disabled child a voice in a safe environment.  Professionals can provide insight and advice to keep the family unit intact and to promote a healthy relationship between siblings.  Seeking out support groups can also be beneficial for siblings of a disabled child.  If support groups are not available, find other families in your area with similar issues and coordinate family outings.  Meeting others in the same situation can provide support to siblings of a disabled child.

My brother loves to eat!

I would like to dedicate this blog to my brother, Nghia.  He has taught me so much about strength and overcoming challenges.  He has made me a better person.

Until next time, remember to Keep Rollin’ and Keep Smilin’.



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