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Brothers and sisters of disabled children: revisiting the experience of disability by association

Peter Burke, University of Hull


This paper examines the impact of childhood disability on brothers and sisters in the family. Evidence is drawn from two research studies undertaken by the author, which demonstrate that siblings experience 'disability by association', an invisible form of disability by identification with their disabled sibling. The initial research was presented to the founding conference of the Disability Association in 2003. The earlier research and follow-up study identifies sibling and family experiences of living with a disabled child and utilises both quantitative and qualitative data drawn from 116 families with 344 children, of whom 118 were disabled. The experience of living with a disabled brother or sister is shown to have brought both positive and negative benefits to the families and children participating in the studies. Themes explored include, the nature of siblings caring activities, disadvantage and restrictions, together with a need to inform professional assessments of sibling needs.

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