Learning disabilities and sibling issues

Siblings of kids with learning disabilities sometimes feel pushed into the background at home. Here's how to balance the needs of your child with LD and your other kids.

By Jodie Dawson, Psy.D.

"What about me?"

"Since I was doing OK in school, my parents just sort of left me alone because they knew I was fine. But, I always felt like my achievements were just not as important as my brother's." Alicia, 27, older sibling of a brother with learning disabilities (LD)

Siblings of children with LD often express confusion and disappointment about getting less attention from their parents than their sibling with LD. Due in part to parents' limited time, their energy and focus may be on helping their child with LD get through school and life. It can be difficult to manage the intense needs of a child with LD while at the same time give ample attention to the other kids in the family. Parents often feel guilty about the amount of attention and time given to their child with LD and worry about ways to balance the inequities.

Here are some ways to be creative and help your other kids feel just as special and important:

"I'm glad they told me."

"One thing that stands out for me from my childhood is that my parents spent a lot of time educating me about my brother's LD. They helped me understand that he was struggling in school, not because he was stupid, but because he learned differently than I did. This helped me stand up for him and deal with it in a more positive way." Katie, 26, older sibling of a brother with LD

"When I found out my brother had a learning disability, it answered a lot of questions I had about him. He was having a hard time in school and couldn' t read very well. When he wrote his story, that was such an accomplishment for him - like a homerun! It took a lot of courage because it made him face what he has - dyslexia." William, 12, older sibling of a brother with LD

Parents need to educate themselves on the issues associated with learning disabilities, but also include their child with LD, his siblings, and other family members. Brothers and sisters need to have open and honest conversations with parents and each other about LD in order to understand and manage the problems that arise.

Throughout these conversations, it's important to provide siblings with opportunities to express their feelings or concerns. Some common feelings include guilt over not having a learning disability, anger and resentment about getting less attention, and frustration over having to deal with a sibling who is different. The more these issues are out on the table, the more you and your family will be able to manage them.

"I'm not her mom."

"It drove me crazy when I would have to pick up the slack for my older sister. Why did I have to do so much more than she did? My mother's expectations were just too much and I felt so weighed down at such an early age." Marcus, 21, younger sibling of a sister with LD

Parents typically shy away from giving a lot of responsibility to their child with LD. Instead, the child without LD may be given many more caregiving and household chores. It's important to remember that kids are still just kids, and even though they demonstrate competencies, they can't be overburdened with responsibility.

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