Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

MassMutual and Easter Seals Team Up for Siblings Disability Study: A Recent Study Will Help Easter Seals and MassMutual's SpecialCare(SM) Team of Professionals Reach out to Individuals Who Are Current or Future Caregivers of Their Siblings with Special Needs. the Findings Provide a Better Understanding of the Concerns These Siblings Have and the Challenges They Face

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

MassMutual and Easter Seals Team Up for Siblings Disability Study: A Recent Study Will Help Easter Seals and MassMutual's SpecialCare(SM) Team of Professionals Reach out to Individuals Who Are Current or Future Caregivers of Their Siblings with Special Needs. the Findings Provide a Better Understanding of the Concerns These Siblings Have and the Challenges They Face

Article excerpt

Sponsored by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual), the Easter Seals Sibling Disability Study survey (1) was conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs, a leading consumer research company. To offer a comparison of views, two groups of siblings were included in the survey-351 adults who have a sibling with special needs (we'll call them Group SN) and 1,392 adults (Group XSN) who do not have a sibling with special needs. This article explores some key findings.

Sibling relationships

When asked how much they agreed that "my relationship with my sibling enhances my life," 80% of people in Group SN agreed, compared to 61% in Group XSN. Further, 72% of Group SN who have children of their own believe their children benefit by having a relationship with their sibling, compared to 61% of Group XSN.

Generally, this can be attributed to how the experience tends to help individuals look at life from a different perspective, and how that helps them develop positive traits, such as compassion, understanding, and patience.

"Having a sister with disabilities made me more tolerant and understanding of others," says James C. Traylor, CLU, ChFC who has earned the Chartered Special Needs Consultant (ChSNC) (2) designation and is a Special Care Planner with Financial Architects (3) in Rochester, New York, a general agency of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). "For example, most of us have seen a child throw a temper tantrum in public. I experienced it with my own sister many times, so when I see other children acting out, I can relate, while others who view the same scene might be critical. It's made me able to apply compassion and understanding to other aspects of my life. I also believe that people who have lived with a sibling with special needs tend to find ways to integrate that experience in their professional and philanthropic lives. I became a financial professional with a focus on helping families with special needs."

As beneficial as the relationships can be, they can also cause strain. 78% of Group SN agreed that "sometimes my relationship with my sibling puts a strain on my family life," compared to only 29% of Group XSN.

"Sometimes it's the little things," explains Traylor, "the extra steps to get ready to go somewhere, the stress of often being late for events, the added responsibilities put on siblings, or the things they miss out on."

Traylor adds, "My friends would be off doing fun things without me because I had to stay home to take care of Nathalie. She has particular routines and habits a stranger wouldn't understand. It's a big deal to a kid to always be the babysitter, and though I was resentful, I came to understand it as I got older. We also didn't take vacations because breaking Nathalie's routine was too stressful for all of us. My parents tried to balance that by installing an in-ground pool, but I was still envious of my friends who went on more adventurous vacations."

Traylor explains that he was twelve years older than Nathalie, so the logical choice for his parents was to look to him for help with Nathalie and other household chores. "I got attention as the helper, and Nathalie because of her needs. I can imagine that for siblings in similar situations this may add increased strain to family dynamics. "

So what can a family do to keep a better balance? Make an effort to communicate more openly and more often. Take a sincere interest in what's happening in each other's' day. Find activities family members can enjoy together.

"Nathalie loves to play Guitar Hero and Wii, and she's drawn the rest of us into playing it with her," says Traylor. "And our family communicates more through electronic media, including Nathalie, who can't write a letter, but loves to text."

Unprepared for the responsibility

Of those who will be future caregivers, 83% are comfortable with being the primary caregiver, with most (60%) feeling emotionally prepared. …

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