Your relationship with your disabled brother or sister
When you were growing up, your relationship with your brother or sister may have been affected by a number of things surrounding their disability. These things will have shaped your sibling relationship and may still do today. You might feel very little connection with your brother or sister, you might feel really close and you might be somewhere in between. You might not know how you feel. And as with any sibling relationship, it may change over time. These are all normal feelings for siblings to have.
Common experiences of adult siblings that affect their relationship with their disabled brother or sister:
There were no local services that were right for my sister, so she went to a residential school miles away. I wasn’t able to see her often and our relationship suffered.
I didn’t understand my sister’s challenging behaviour when I was a child – I had no information and no support. Our relationship has been very strained.
My brother and I went to the same secondary school, where he was bullied because of his learning disability. I was always very protective of him, and I think this brought us closer together.
It makes me so angry when people assume my brother can’t achieve anything just because he has Down syndrome – he’s achieved a lot and I couldn’t be more proud of him.
My brother doesn’t say thank you, he doesn’t listen, he can’t reciprocate kind gestures… I care about him and I do things for him, but it’s hard not having this in return.
Accept your feelings
Accept that it is normal to have mixed feelings about your brother or sister and the impact of their disability. Whatever you feel – know that it is OK. Read our page for adult siblings on coping with feelings to look at guilt, anger and worry.
Remember that you are not alone – there are 1.7 million adult siblings in the UK, and many of them will have had similar experiences to you. Read about positive and difficult experiences of growing up with a disabled brother or sister.
Do some research
Find out more about your brother or sister’s condition/s or disability. New research may be available and what you knew about it some time ago may have changed, or your brother or sister’s condition may have changed.
Talk to close friends or your partner about how you feel. If your brother or sister has a learning disability and/or autism, join your nearest adult sibling support group or set up a group in your area.
Seek counselling support if you are finding it hard to cope with your feelings, or are experiencing anxiety or depression.
Find ways of enjoying time with your brother or sister
Many siblings enjoy spending time with their brother or sister. You may have been doing the same things together for years and need a bit of encouragement to try some new activities together.
The type of things you can do together will depend on how close you live together, how well you get on (as with any sibling relationship), and your brother or sister’s ability to participate in the sort of activities that you enjoy.
It’s hard sometimes combining the needs of my family with those of my brother who has a learning disability. One activity is a must though, every time we meet up, we take the car through the car wash – my brother and my daughter both love it and gets us all off to a good start with much hilarity about whether the brushes will come through the windscreen and will we all get wet! None of us ever tire of it! Clare
Some ideas for sibling time together
- Going to the cinema
- Visiting an art gallery or outdoor sculpture park
- Looking at family photo albums together
- Bird watching,
- Playing on Wii
- Going to the theatre
- Going to a football or cricket match
- Sending picture postcards
Touch and movement activities
- Riding a bike together on a tandem or chair-bike
- Sledging at a snow-dome
- Getting a massage or a beauty treatment
- Pet therapy
Listening and sound activities
- Listening to an audiobook
- Downloading some music
- Singing aloud together
- Going to a music workshop together (e.g.drumming)
- Attending concerts and festivals
- Identifying birds in the garden by their song
- Recording a family member reminiscing about the past and listening together later
- Getting free tickets to sit in on a radio or TV show recording
- Making a best songs playlist
- Going out for a meal
- Tasting ice-creams
- Preparing food together
- Going strawberry picking
- Food and wine tasting
- Visiting a restaurant with an ethnic food you haven’t tried before
- Making juices and smoothies
- Buying at a speciality food shop together
- Visiting a scented garden
- Buying perfume together
- Guided tour of a brewery or chocolate factory
- Going to the sea
Nurture other sibling relationships
Think about ways you can nurture your relationship with any other sibling or siblings you have. It can be easy for time together to be focused on how to support your disabled brother or sister, or elderly parent. Or you may be in conflict about issues of fairness about who provides care or about the best way to manage things. It may not be possible to resolve these issues but it will be easier to work on things together if you are involved in each others’ lives in a positive way. Take time to talk about the other things that matter to you both and to spend time just hanging out together.