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Having a disabled child in the family

disabled; disability; family; problems; child; sibling; brother; sister ;


What does being 'disabled' mean?

Being disabled means not being able to do things that other people of the same age can do.

  • Wheel chairA girl who cannot hear what the teacher is saying because she has a hearing loss is disabled.
  • A boy who cannot move his legs because of an injury (his legs are paralysed) is also disabled.
  • A person may have an intellectual disability which means they learn slowly and may have trouble managing many things that are needed for everyday life.
  • A boy may have a learning disability.

In these examples, although they are each disabled, their disabilities have very different effects on their lives.

  • A hearing aid might help the girl with a hearing loss do everything others can do.
  • A boy with paralysed legs might be able to move around in a wheel chair, so that he can play some sports but not others, for example. But he might be just as good at doing spelling tests as you are, and maybe he is really good at wheelchair sports.
  • A girl with an intellectual disability may need a lot of support in many areas of her life.
  • A boy with a learning disability may need extra support at school.

There are lots of different types of disability, such as autism and blindness.
hearing disability

Most people who have a disability will be able to do lots of normal things, and have lots of fun and enjoyable times. But some of the time, life can be difficult and unhappy for them.

Some people with severe disabilities, who need other people to look after them all the time, may not be able to show when they are feeling happy.

When there is a child in the family who has a disability it can be challenging for all of the family - including the child who has the disability - and other children in the family.

Helping out

If you have a sibling (brother or sister) who has a disability, then there are things you can do to help that person, as well as help your family and yourself.

  • familyFind out about the disability and work out how it affects your sibling. Your parents will be able to help you with this, and always ask your sibling.
  • Learn how to help look after her.
  • Ask mum or dad to role-play by asking you questions that people might ask you about your sibling, and work out what answers you can give. siblingsThis way you will feel more confident and you will not be stressed out by questions from people who don't understand your sibling's disability (especially the silly questions).
  • Talk and play with your sibling.
  • Encourage your sibling by praising what she can do.
  • Help by showing your sibling how to do things.
  • Encourage her to do things for herself, if possible.
  • Encourage her to do things for others, like doing chores around the house, if she can.

When people are unkind

Sometimes people are unkind when they are faced by something or someone different. You may need to help your sibling cope with this.

being unkind

You may need to learn to cope with unkindness towards you too.

  • Find out how to cope with teasing about your sibling, and help him and yourself deal with it. People often tease or don't know what to say when they meet up with a disabled person. Look at the topics "Being teased" and "Dealing with bullies" on this site for some ideas.
  • Tell people when you think they are unkind, then tell mum or the teacher about it.
  • Talk with your family and your sibling and decide together how you will deal with people staring or making remarks. Think about what you could say, and how to say it without getting upset, eg. "My brother has a disability and sometimes he shouts when he gets excited. He is not being badly behaved."

What kids say

  • "I really enjoy doing things with my brother, even though he can't do some of the things that I can do."
  • "I don't get to do my things. I always have to be with my sister."
  • Sometimes I'm embarrassed when people stare at my brother in his wheelchair. But they don't know what fun he is."
    peer group
  • "No-one knows my name. I'm always known as Sam's sister. I feel like I'm invisible at times."
  • "My sister wrecked my things – she didn't mean to, but it upset me. Mum put a lock on my door so that she can't get into my room."
  • helping"People look at me when I am signing to my sister and they think I am deaf too, so they shout. They get embarrassed when I tell them that I can hear them perfectly well, but I always say it in a nice way so that they don't feel bad, unless they're really mean people."
  • "I sometimes get mad because my brother gets all the attention. I'd like some help sometimes too."
  • "I feel really sad sometimes because I know my sister's disability will never go away. Then I think that I'm lucky to have her."
  • "My brother has hearing problems but he's the best runner in the school and he's on the footy team."

What about you?


Living with a sibling with a disability can be hard at times, especially if mum and dad have to spend a lot of time with doctors and at hospitals. But living with all brothers and sisters can be difficult some of the time.

It is understandable that you may have some mixed-up feelings now and then.

  • Talk with mum and dad to let them know how you feel.
  • Ask for some space of your own, like your own room if possible, or a cupboard where you can keep your special things.
  • See if you can go on a visit to see grandma or a friend, so that you can get away for a while.
  • Have your own friends at school, and see if they can come to visit sometimes. At times you might want to arrange for mum or dad to keep your brother or sister with a disability occupied, so you can have time with your friends.
  • siblingsTry to have your own activities. If mum and dad can't get you to sport or whatever it is you want to do, try to organise with a school friend for her parents to give you a ride to and from sport while they are taking your friend.
  • Brothers and sisters always have problems at times. Siblings squabble, and some of the time they don't like each other. Some of the time, it is great to have someone else to play with or look after. Why should it be any different between you and your sibling, whether or not he has a disability?
  • Don't feel guilty, or that you are a horrible person if you get fed up at times having to help and take care of your sibling . This is a perfectly normal feeling. You could talk about it with the rest of the family or a trusted adult that you know.
  • Do find out about your sibling's disability so that you can understand his behaviour and his needs.
  • Try to have some time alone with mum or dad, maybe when your sibling is in bed. Sometimes they will be too tired to do things with you. Sometimes life is not fair!

Dr Kim says

Dr Kim"A lot of children who have a brother or sister with a disability grow up to be kind and much loved people, because they learn to be kind and look after others when they are young.

But while you are a child, it is also important for you to be a child, who is able to do things with friends and be a person, not just 'Kelly's sister'. You could ask your parents to find out if there is a group for children whose siblings have a disability. You might find out that other kids also have lots of mixed up feelings too."

 You might find some interesting information on these sites

Novita Children's Services

Young Carers Australia - Am I a young carer?  

Siblings Australia

  • You might find this site interesting if your sibling is a teenager or a young adult
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    We've provided this information to help you to understand important things about staying healthy and happy. However, if you feel sick or unhappy, it is important to tell your mum or dad, a teacher or another grown-up.


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