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Growing Up With A Sibling With Disabilities Can Be Challenging, And This Maltese Organisation For Children Wants To Help

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You might not see it at first, but growing up with a brother or sister with a disability can have tremendous effects on a person.

They may feel elated at their successes… or embarrassed, ashamed or even isolated at points. 

However, having a sibling with a disability may also be an opportunity for children to grow and mature. Growing up with a sibling with a disability in the family may instil kids with a greater sense of compassion towards people who are different. In light of this, the Church Schools Children’s Fund, a voluntary organisation that works to support children in church schools, has set up a space where kids could meet other siblings possibly going through similar challenges.

Called Sibshine, it will be held on the 1st and 2nd of November. 

Ahead of the important opportunity for the children, we took a closer look at what the lived experience is of an adult who grew up with a sibling with Down Syndrome.

“Living with a sibling who has Down Syndrome can be challenging, especially if you are a little child.”

“It wasn’t always easy understanding my brother’s behaviour or my parent’s response; sometimes they were more lenient with him than with me and my two other siblings. Being young, I did expect him to be treated just like everyone else because in my eyes he was my brother, nothing less; he was just like me. We bargained who was going to do the dishes, watch television, keep the remote control for the day, we had siblings fights and shared mischievous endeavours.”

“Growing older I started noticing the physical differences and the way people behaved with him. I don’t recall when my parents first told me that my brother has Down Syndrome, and I am not sure they even did explicitly, even though, the disability was never hidden.”

“Learning about the disability was hands-on; I lived with him, I saw his struggles and weakness but also his success. Nowadays, children are taught about disability from a very young age and society is more inclusive. However, when we were younger, people did make fun of him in front of us. It always brought about anger that people felt entitled to make fun of him; he was my brother! However, deep down there always was this irksome feeling of shame followed by guilt for feeling ashamed that my brother was different. However, this never lessened my love for my brother.”

“As a grown-up, I realise how my brother has helped me become a better person and for this, I can never thank him enough. He taught me how to fine-tune my understanding of what is different and my response to it; my empathy, tolerance and cooperation. Invaluable skills that help me do my job better.”

“I had the blessing of having my siblings to share my experience with and it was a relief to know that they experienced some of the things too – I wasn’t alone. Living with a sibling who has a disability is a rollercoaster of emotion and very often parents are not aware of how it affects siblings. Some parents might think that by not giving the details they protect the siblings however; it shouldn’t be like this. Don’t leave your children in the dark, make them part of the process and help them understand.”

“For this reason, I believe that Sibshops will provide a great opportunity to answer their questions, concerns and help them understand that they are not alone. This is a great chance to help your children make the best out of their family situation and see all the positive that there is in growing up with a sibling who has a disability.”

Sibshine – a 2-day live-in programme for brothers or sisters of kids with special needs attending Church Schools – is being held on 1st and 2nd November 2019. Parents who are interested or wish to have further information can contact the Church School Children’s Fund on Facebook or call on 2779 0060.

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