How to harness the strength of the sibling 

February 24, 2022
Family wellbeing
By Kindred

Two Sisters With Disabled Brother At Park

Siblings can play a key role in the life of a child with a disability. With the right support, they can often be the best teachers, allies and therapy assistants out there! 

So how can we harness that sibling strength? Our parents got together to share a few tips around how siblings can play an important role in empowering our families. 

Modelling and Imitation  

Often, our kids look up to their siblings. They may want to imitate them, be like them, or try things that they may not otherwise try. 

Working with this natural inclination can be a great asset for learning language, play and other skills. One parent shared that her older child helped toilet train their sibling by showing them how to use the toilet.  

A source of courage  

Sometimes in therapy, our kids may be a little reluctant to do something they’re not so sure about. Seeing a sibling do it can be a game-changer. 

Take the humble playground. Some kids will achieve more play with their sibling at the park than in any regimented Physio session because they have the courage to do so. It can be a great bonding experience for the sibling, too. 

Challenge perceived limitations  

Sometimes, siblings can see their sibling with a disability’s potential more than we can. They can often come up with ideas for practicing skills and fostering independence that we as parents may not have thought of.   

In one case, a family spoke to us about how their older child began suggesting when they thought it was time to challenge their younger sister, or give her more opportunities to demonstrate her skills. 

Including siblings in therapy sessions  

Kids are often prepared to step further out of their comfort zone when the siblings are close at hand. This is why we love the whole family approach when it comes to therapy.  

Whether that’s during OT, playing with putty or using a sensory swing, the therapy sessions can be set up for both siblings. For some of our parents, this has formed a big part of choosing the right therapist. 

Seek out programs that siblings can attend together  

Siblings are a great choice for practicing social skills. One parent shared that their therapist coached them on using a LEGO social skills program at home with her three kids, to practice co-operative play. 

Choosing fun toys that build skills  

Think creatively on how the siblings can play together outside of therapy, to meet your child’s therapy goals.  

One of our parents takes her 3 kids to the $2 store, where they buy beads, string, marbles, and tongs, rather than therapy-specific items. 

Learning from one another 

Importantly, we need to recognise that our children without disability can learn much in return from having a sibling with disability. They learn about diversity and respecting and appreciating difference.  

With the right support from us parents, they can also share the joy in the “wins”. Because they innately understand how the small things are actually the big things!

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