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“School would have been so much easier if my teachers had known about my sister Katie who is non-verbal and autistic. Growing up we shared the same room so my sleep was interrupted when she had a bad night. That made it hard to concentrate in lessons the next day. My homework – when I had a chance to do it – was regularly scribbled on and when things were difficult at home it was hard to keep my emotions in check. There were so many times I was in need of support or attention at school, but nobody knew.” Laura, sibling

Siblings are a vulnerable group

  • Siblings are vulnerable to isolation and bullying. They are more likely than their peers to experience public prejudice, family breakdown and bereavement
  • Over half of all young carers in the UK are siblings of disabled children and any sibling can become a young carer during their time at school
  • Four out of ten siblings of disabled children live in poverty
  • Cuts to services for families of disabled children has increased the negative impact of disability on siblings and reduced the referral options for siblings to get timely support through community groups and CAMHS services
  • The positives acquired by siblings such as tolerance, patience and kindness are rarely acknowledged or celebrated by schools

Siblings who are most at risk for problems

Sibling young carers

Example: The sibling who is sleeping in the same room as his brother so that he can alert his mum to his brother’s seizures.

Sibling young carers have significantly lower educational attainment at GCSE and are more likely than the national average not to be in education, employment or training (NEET) between the ages of 16 and 19.

Siblings whose brothers and sisters have high levels of behavioural problems

Example: The sibling whose homework is regularly damaged by her brother who has autism and challenging behaviour.

A recent large-scale study in the USA identified siblings of disabled children were almost three times more likely to have significant problems in interpersonal relationships, psychological well-being, school performance and use of leisure time compared to other siblings.

Some older teenage siblings limit their opportunities for work and further education in order to be available to provide long-term care and support for their disabled brothers and sisters.    

Barriers to learning for siblings

Siblings of children who are disabled or have special educational needs or have a serious long-term conditions, come up against barriers to learning and achieving. These barriers can lead to problems with attainment and progress. By being aware of these, school staff can take action to identify them and remove or reduce them for siblings.

Causes of barriers to learning for siblings

Poor concentration

Disrupted sleep; providing excessive and inappropriate care at home; worry about wellbeing of child with SEND; being bullied; anxiety from experiencing medical emergencies; neglect due to demands of care on parent

Missing time in lessons

Being late for school whilst parent waits for transport for child with SEND; helping with care at home; needing more sleep after disturbed night; being asked to help child with SEND at school

Poor pupil-staff relationship

Being punished for being late or not doing homework; staff insensitivity to pupils with SEND; disabilism or bullying not being dealt with; sibling experiences not acknowledged in school

Homework not completed

Parent not able to support with homework due to care demands for child with SEND; homework disrupted or damaged by child with SEND

Emotional or behavioural problems

Bereavement; jealousy of attention to child with SEND; anger; experiencing frequent parental distress; feeling isolated; copying behaviour of child with SEND; family breakdown; real or perceived lack of parental attention; being hurt by child with SEND who has aggressive behaviour; not understanding brother or sister’s condition; experiencing public prejudice; a sudden change in a child with SEND’s condition or needs

Limited opportunities outside of home

Family finances affected; difficulty having friends home; less time due to helping with care; parent unable to take sibling to after school activities due to child with SEND’s care needs; lack of inclusive activities for family

We can help you identify and support these pupils in your school. To find out more contact schools@sibs.org.uk