Siblings with Disabilities

By: Isabelle Siegel

People readily consider the struggles experienced by children with disabilities as well as by their parents, but siblings’ experiences and difficulties oftentimes go unnoticed. However, growing up with a sibling with a disability is not without consequences. Having a sibling with special needs is associated with numerous challenges, but also numerous opportunities.


Growing up alongside a sibling with a disability can be associated with many negative emotions, some of which include anger, guilt, jealousy, embarrassment, and fear. Siblings of children with disabilities often report feeling neglected by their parents and feeling forced to hide their own problems for the sake of their family or brother/sister. They may also undergo “parentification,” meaning that they take on the role of a parent to themselves or even to their sibling. Although this parentification is associated with increased maturity, it is also associated with increased emotional vulnerability and distress. Taken together, these negative emotions and challenges render siblings of children with disabilities at higher risk for developing psychological adjustment difficulties: that is, they are more vulnerable than the average child to anxiety disorders, peer problems, academic struggles, and more.


People are quick to assume that having a sibling with a disability is a purely negative experience. However, growing up alongside a sibling with a disability is associated with many positive emotions and opportunities. Siblings of children with disabilities report feeling immense pride, gratitude, loyalty, and love. They tend to be more mature, responsible, empathetic, and tolerant than the average child. These positive experiences are equally as important as the negative ones, and must be acknowledged in order to fully comprehend what it is like to have a sibling with a disability.

What Parents Can Do

In order to best help the siblings of children with disabilities, parents can take several steps. These include:

  • Making sure to spend one-on-one time with each child
  • Keeping the siblings informed about their brother’s or sister’s disability and its implications
  • Understanding both the negative and positive emotions associated with being the sibling of a child with disabilities
  • Getting siblings involved in psychological services such as therapy

If you or a loved one is the sibling or parent of a child with a disability, the licensed psychologists, psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, and psychotherapists at Arista Counseling & Psychotherapy can assist you. Contact our Paramus, NJ or Manhattan, NY offices respectively, at (201) 368-3700 or (212) 722-1920 to set up an appointment. For more information, visit

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