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An early life lesson for siblings of ill or disabled kids

One of my favorite parts of the TV show Parenthood is the relationship between two young siblings: high-schooler Haddie and her younger brother Max, who was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome at the beginning of the first season. The two are portrayed as quite close; Haddie comes across as understanding and loving towards her brother, despite his very specific needs, and she often takes on a caregiver role with him. And though one can argue she's long been in the shadow of her sibling, Haddie, for the most part, doesn't appear to be angry at Max or feel neglected by her parents.

These fictional characters were on my mind this weekend, then, when I heard an NPR segment on siblings with chronic illnesses or disabilities. In the piece, reporter Kim Green discusses the challenges of a life "constantly interrupted by medical emergencies that trump regular kid concerns," and explains how life with an ill or disabled child can actually help siblings grow into well-adjusted, empathetic adults. From the transcript:

William Putthoff... knows his parents stay pretty busy taking care of his four-year-old brother with Down's syndrome. And he doesn't want to add to their worries, so he entertains himself a lot and solves problems on his own, like how to get his grades up. But he says he doesn't see his brother as a burden.

"Like, it kind of gets me stressed out when hes like getting really crazy and wild. But it also does, like, teach me to be patient with him, patient towards other people."

The siblings in [a] Vanderbilt support group say a lot of unselfish things like that and didn't show any resentment about their extra responsibilities at home or about getting less attention. Older siblings often talk about how they made big life decisions with other people in mind.

The entire segment is worth a listen.

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