“The siblings of special needs children are quite special. Absolutely accepting and totally loving, from birth. Someone who is different mentally, and has a different way of seeing the world, is a wonderful trait. It’s a trait I wish there was another way of getting, but there isn’t. And it does involve a degree of not having it fantastically easy.” – Sally Phillips
As siblings, it is so easy to focus on the challenge we face, the difficulties we face and the struggles we face every day. We can easily forget that being a sibling has made us who we are. It has given us certain traits and qualities that others have, but maybe not to the same degree. Being a sibling is hard. Really hard. So, it is important to focus on the positive things being a sibling has brought to our lives. The Sibs National Adult Sibling Support Group has been discussing the strengths being a sibling has given us:
- Empathy – this is something many people claim to have and something many people do have. But the extent of empathy a sibling is able to feel is on a whole new level. We really can put ourselves into someone else’s shoes and are fully aware of the feelings of others. But, we also have to be careful not to take on the negative emotions of others in our need to help and heal.
- Putting on what we call ‘the face’ – you know the one. Life at home is crumbling around you, there are meltdowns, carers letting you down and the constant worry but we slap on that smile, go out into the world and nobody would ever know just what we have gone through that morning, is going on at home while we are at work or what we are going home to deal with. We are the perfect swans (graceful, serene and calm above the water but paddling like crazy to stay afloat!)
- Confidence – sometimes this can come across to others as being bolshy but that is because we know how hard we and our parents have had to fight to get our siblings what they need and this has rubbed off onto us. Hell yeah we are confident! We have been through more stuff than most people ever do and we battle everyday for the smallest justices for our siblings and we will be ready to lead that fight when our time comes.
- Brave – we have so many people to be brave for. Our siblings, our parents, ourselves. We take risks and we never give up.
- Strong sense of justice – we have often seen the ugly side of justice. We know what is right and wrong from a young age and spend our lives fighting for others to see the injustice faced by those with disabilities.
- Patience – we are used to waiting our turn, being the second thought, the bottom of the priority list. But, we wait. We know there is an order of priority in every aspect of life, so we wait. We wait for it to be our turn, because we know it will come, eventually.
- Tolerance – we are extremely tolerant of the quirks that make people who they are. We see them, hear them, understand them and accept them.
- Open-minded – we have seen and met so many different people in our lives that pretty much nothing can phase us. We are accepting of new people, new ideas and changes.
- Understanding – we have an increased level of understanding of others. It is second-nature to us to question why someone says and acts the way they do. We analyse and we understand which enables us to react appropriately in any and all situations.
- Practical thinking – we are so used to meticulously planned days out that we are able to think about any and all possible situations and plan accordingly. But, we can also react in the moment, pulling solutions out of seemingly thin air, when really we are pulling them from a lifetime of lived experience.
- Excellent communicators – we have developed a whole range of communication strategies, whether that’s informal to people close to us or more formally to medical, education and care professionals. We know how to clearly communicate the needs of our sibling (if only we could learn how to communicate our own needs as clearly, eh?!)
- Problem solvers – our whole lives we have faced problems many have never had to give a second though to. But to us, it is in our bones to identify the problem and come up with a solution, often with very little to no warning!
- Awareness of non-verbal cues – many of our siblings were late to develop speech, are non-verbal or have limited speech so we are experts at picking up on non-verbal cues during interactions with others (a blessing and a curse depending how the conversation is going and who it is with!)
- Fiercely independent – we have spent our lives having the needs of our sibling put before our own, by ourselves and by other people. So, from a very early age we learnt to be self-directed and self-sufficient. We have learnt to rely on ourselves for everything we need in life (although we do appreciate help from other people too!)
- Being an expert – without meaning to, we have become experts in a whole range of different fields. Medical, legislation, care etc. They say nobody knows a child like a parent, well for us we have to know our sibling just as well as they do because one day we will take on the responsibility of fighting for their needs and you best believe we will do it knowing every damn thing we can about the system!
- Perseverance – we are so aware that everything for our sibling is a battle. We have seen our parents fight every step of the way. But did they ever give in? Did they ever accept the mediocre and think ‘that’s good enough’? Of course not, they fought to get the very best and we witnessed that fight every step of the way, learning to be persistent.
- Good in a crisis – depending on the needs of our siblings, we will have faced various crises during our lives and have come out of each one stronger. We remain calm, we deal with the situation and add another thing to our list of ‘what to do when X happens’.
- Perspective – during our adult lives, we will come across many people who think they have a huge problem, someone upset them at work, looked at them funny etc and to them that’s the worst thing ever. Well, we know what real problems are and this perspective helps us to celebrate the little wins, while getting over the little bumps in the road pretty quickly because if all you’ve got to worry about is someone looking at you funny across the room at work, lucky you!
- Appreciating the little moments – our siblings may not hit the typical milestones in life. We may never see them graduate from college or uni, get married, or have their own children. But, we will see them smile for the first time, take those steps a doctor once said they’d never take or see the joy on their face on a sunny day after battling through a meltdown to get out of the door.
- Helpful – most people would claim to be helpful but our desire to help others is so ingrained in us that its automatic. We see someone upset, having a bad day and our first thought is always ‘what can I do?’ regardless of what we may be going through ourselves.
- Multi-tasking – we can often see ourselves as jugglers, we have so many balls in the air at all times it’s a wonder how we manage not to drop one. There’s ourselves, our sibling, our parents, our career, our partners, our own children and so many other things we have going on at once but somehow we make it work. Sure, we may drop a ball occasionally (and boy do we berate ourselves if we do!) but we always scoop it up, chuck it back into the mix and carry on!
- 6th sense – usually for trouble! We are so connected to our siblings that we can see the potential for a meltdown long before it comes meaning we can try and prevent it (or at least limit the destruction!).
These are just some of the #siblingstrengths the National Group have identified through discussion. Each one leads us to thinking of more. So many of these are key life skills that we have in abundance. Sure, being a sibling is hard, but the reward is pretty priceless!
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