Why having a sibling with additional needs can be so rewarding.
If you parent or care for a child with special needs, it’s only natural that you’ll think about the impact it has on any of your other children. And while siblings can have challenges of their own, there’s a whole host of positives that come along with being a sibling to a someone with additional needs.
We caught up with Dr Alexandra Gregory, an Educational Psychologist and sister to Chrissy, who has diagnoses of autism, a learning disability, epilepsy and sensory differences, to find out the top ten positives of having a sibling with special needs.
No two days are the same
‘Life with Chrissy is never boring – she truly is one of a kind and makes us look at life from a different perspective. She always keeps us on our toes and makes sure that there’s never a dull moment.’
We’re always entertained
‘Chrissy has a larger than life personality and a brilliant sense of humour. Although our stories with Chrissy often fall under the ‘black comedy’ genre, she truly is a great entertainer who makes everyone giggle. Chrissy has taught me to always keep this bright sense of humour, particularly in the face of adversity, which has helped get us through the tough times.’
We get to see the world through the eyes of autism
‘The way Chrissy sees the world can be fascinating and beautiful, such as the time she walked past a rusty archway and saw it as a rainbow. She has astute attention to detail and this helps us to approach things in a different way. Oh, what I’d give for just one moment inside her mind…’
We’re grateful and mindful
‘Chrissy has a way of ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’, which has taught us to live in the moment, as well as to live life to the full. She has also taught me to appreciate all the opportunities that life presents, and to not take these for granted. Sometimes, I feel I have to make the most of them for Chrissy too.’
We’ve learnt what’s really important in life
‘Chrissy’s innocence and uncomplicated view of life have taught me to always reflect on what’s actually important, and to not sweat the small stuff. I’ve grown up embracing difference and diversity, and believing that all lives should have equal value.’
I’ve strengthened my self-identity
‘Chrissy has helped me to develop a strong sense of identity, which of course, entails being a sibling. Chrissy is who she is and says what she thinks, which has inspired me to be true to myself and not take myself too seriously. Her persistent and assertive nature has also shown me that it’s ok to go for what you want, and to aspire for more.’
I have an unbreakable bond with my sister
‘My relationship with my sister is unique. Although she is technically the ‘big sister’, our roles reversed in childhood. We sometimes say that Chrissy is our very own Peter Pan – forever young! It didn’t take long for me to take on the stereotypical ‘older sister’ role, and it is so rewarding sharing pride in Chrissy’s achievements. We have a very strong attachment, and her expression of unconditional love and excitement when she sees me always makes me smile.’
I’ve felt the kindness of others
‘Despite some exceptions as a child, I am often met with kindness, curiosity and understanding about Chrissy. My closest friends have also developed a fondness and special bond with my sister too.’
I’ve developed some key skills and qualities
‘Having a sibling with complex needs can develop your personal qualities in so many ways. You don’t just become more self-sufficient, responsible and independent, but you learn vital emotional skills too – such as empathy, compassion, kindness, patience and tolerance. I learnt to grow up quickly as a child because of Chrissy, but this was definitely ‘character building’!’
My journey with my sister has inspired my career
‘My sister has been a huge inspiration for my passion to become a psychologist and to help and support other vulnerable children and families. If I didn’t have a sibling like Chrissy, I am not sure where I would be today, or what I would be doing.’
A final thought
‘Just as individuals shouldn’t be defined by a diagnosis, but by their strengths and personalities, siblings shouldn’t be defined by their challenges. There are so many positives of being a sibling to someone with additional needs, it’s just a matter of finding them. And this quote always comes to mind when I think about our unique family – ‘hopefully our way out of the dark will light the way for others…’
Dr Alexandra Gregory is an Educational Psychologist and sister to Chrissy, who has complex needs including diagnoses of autism, a learning disability, epilepsy and sensory differences. Dr Gregory has a special interest in supporting siblings of children with additional needs through her own talks and workshops for families, and has conducted and published research that looks into the school experiences of siblings of children with autism. To find out more about Dr Gregory, you can follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, or visit her website.