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Science reveals the benefits of having a sibling with a disability


SeventyFour | Shutterstock

Cerith Gardiner - published on 03/22/21

Typically developing siblings are truly blessed to have a more vulnerable brother or sister.

There’s something unique about a sibling bond. It’s often the first close relationship a child will form and can last a lifetime. However, scientists from two universities in Israel — Tel Aviv University and University of Haifa — have made a very interesting discovery concerning the benefits for children who have a sibling with mental or intellectual disabilities.

“Having a child with a disability in a family places unique demands on all family members, including typically developing siblings. Although challenges exist, they are often accompanied by both short- and long-term positive contributions,” shared Prof. Zaidman-Zait, who was a co-author of the study that was published in Science Daily.

Interestingly, but perhaps understandably, the study revealed that when a child has a sibling with additional needs they were more supportive. However, these siblings also “scored higher on empathy, teaching and closeness and scored lower on conflict and rivalry than those with typically developing siblings.” All the qualities you’d want your child to have!

The scientists carried out their research by studying 60 children, aged between 8 and 11, half of whom had typically developing siblings, the other half of whom had intellectually disabled siblings. Through drawings and questionnaires, as well as moms being asked to fill in surveys concerning the quality of their children’s relationships, the scientists were able to ascertain the differences between the two sets of children.

“We drew on the basic assumption that artistic creation allows internal content to be expressed visually and that children’s self-reports have special added value in studies measuring sibling relationship qualities, especially in areas where parents might have less insight,” explained Prof. Zaidman-Zait.

With the help of licensed art therapists, the drawings were examined to help “score the illustrations.” Small but significant details, such as the proximity of the siblings in the drawings, were a way of measuring sibling relationships. The questionnaires from both the children and the mothers gave further insight into the relationships.

The overall findings concluded that “having a family member with a disability makes the rest of the family, including typically developing children, more attentive to the needs of others,” according to the professor.

While this may not be surprising to moms and dads parenting both children with intellectual disabilities and typically developing children, it’s important the findings of the study are shared, especially for those who might be feeling a little trepidation at welcoming a child with special needs into their family.

Thanks to the findings, not only can people appreciate the joy of such a beautiful — albeit sometimes taxing — family make-up, but they can understand the real benefits these siblings can bring to each other, and those around them.

And perhaps most importantly, at a time when society seeks perfection, people can realize that those with disabilities play an integral part in making the perfect family and the most perfect siblings!


Read more:
9 People with Down syndrome who are changing the world


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