In my last blog, I promised to share with you what some in the field know about siblings of children with chronic illness.
Only a few years ago, two Canadian researchers sifted through fifty-one published studies about siblings of children with a chronic illness. Overall, their most striking impression of the findings was that there was a lack of consensus on whether or not there was a negative psychological effect on the siblings.
Some of the studies showed siblings of children with chronic illness to be a “population at risk” for psychological difficulties. For those siblings who did experience negative psychological side effects, most were “internalizing” behaviors such as anxiety and depression, versus “externalizing” behaviors such as acting out or aggression.
Additionally, the researchers found that the negative results varied not in relation to the seriousness of the siblings’ illness, but instead to how much the siblings’ illnesses affected the family’s day-to-day functioning. In other words, food allergies or asthma may have more of an effect on a sibling than a more serious illness that can be treated surgically.
The researchers also found that there may be long-term positive benefits to growing up with an ill sibling. Greater compassion was discovered as one such benefit, and having a sibling with a chronic illness may be associated with an enhanced sibling relationship in the context of illness or disability.
My own observations on the effects of siblings with a chronic illness are based on only a sample of one, but here is what I have discovered: My four-year-old son with acid reflux disease has taught my ten year old son about the inherent differences between people, and the fact that sometimes people have no choice in these differences. I think my oldest son is also learning what it means for a family to stick together in order to care of each other. He has certainly learned that sometimes you need to put others first before yourself if you are looking out for the success of the whole family. I’d also like to think my oldest son is well ahead of his peers in the vital skill of navigating the US healthcare system.
If you would like to read the original research results from Sharpe and Rossiter, their findings were published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology in 2002, and can be viewed at: http://jpepsy.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/27/8/699.
Published On: April 04, 2007