Researchers looking at the effects of growing up with a sibling with an intellectual disability have found positives that are often downplayed or ignored. The Times of Israel reports, “Siblings of intellectually disabled children are more empathetic, better at teaching and enjoy better relationships with their siblings.”
The finding comes from research done at Tel Aviv University and the University of Haifa. As part of the study, researchers asked mothers and children about sibling relationships using artwork and questionnaires. In particular, the study examined the relationship of developmentally average siblings with their siblings who have an intellectual disability.
“Having a child with a disability in a family places unique demands on all family members, including typically developing siblings,” Tel Aviv University professor Anat Zaidman-Zait said in a statement about the research. “Although challenges exist, they are often accompanied by both short- and long-term positive contributions.”
The research showed benefits for siblings of an intellectually disabled child, especially social skills and family harmony. Zaidman-Zait explained, “We found that children with siblings with intellectual disabilities scored higher on empathy, teaching and closeness and scored lower on conflict and rivalry than those with typically developing siblings.”
The findings, published in the journal Research in Developmental Disabilities, is titled “The quality of the relationship between typically developing children and their siblings with and without intellectual disability: Insights from children’s drawings.” The authors note the shortcomings of previous studies in this area. Some previous studies assumed negative or positive outcomes and found a slight increase in adjustment problems among typically developed siblings or found that typically developed siblings handle more responsibility without adverse effects, respectively.
What makes the most recent study unique is the pairing of verbal answers through questionnaires and non-verbal responses from children through drawings. Studies that rely too heavily on information from parents can be skewed by the fact that parents tend to view sibling relationships more negatively than the children do.
The study authors wrote, “Overall, the research suggests children whose siblings have [intellectual disabilities] experience personal growth and gain emotional strength, and this is reflected in character traits such as perseverance, motivation, a sense of responsibility, maturity, and developed social skills.”
Sadly, elective abortion has created a culture that often encourages parents to end a child’s life if a potential intellectual disability can be detected before birth. The rationale for this inhumane and unjust discrimination sometimes includes the child’s siblings, with abortion advocates claiming that a child with a disability will detract from his or her siblings’ lives and be a burden in the future. The recent findings on the benefits of sibling relationships between typically developed and disabled children shed light on the complexity and beauty of human relationships and the full humanity of each child, regardless of disability.
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