The Impact of LD and ADHD on Siblings
By Judy Grossman, DrPH, OTR
We all know that sibling relationships run the gamut from best friends to worst enemies. Who hasn’t been jealous of a brother or sister? Although sibling rivalry is normal, it may become problematic if one child has learning difficulties, and the parents devote a great deal of attention to that child.
Even in families where parents have the best intentions and conscientiously attend to the needs of each child, siblings of a child with LD or ADHD often report that they experience unfair treatment and are troubled by sibling relationships.
Sibling reactions differ depending on age, family dynamics, and individual characteristics of the children involved. Often sibling rivalry may stem from the behavior of their parents. A sibling may become angry or jealous because of the attention—positive or negative—that the child with LD or ADHD receives. Resentment may increase if the sibling feels pressure to perform a certain way to make his parents feel better.
Parents may expect more from the non-LD/ADHD sibling and give him additional responsibilities to help his brother or sister. In some families the sibling becomes protective and assumes a caretaker role because he is sensitive to his parents’ frustrations.
The pain and resentment experienced by the non-LD/ADHD sibling may not be apparent because he seems to be functioning well. In contrast, a non-LD/ADHD sibling who feels rejected may become withdrawn or hostile. If the situation persists, he may feel alienated from the family and develop problematic high-risk behaviors to get the attention he craves from his parents.
Provoking a Reaction
Sibling issues may also stem from direct interactions between children. A child with LD or ADHD may provoke or overstimulate his sibling. The child with LD or ADHD may be impulsive, disorganized or moody at home and the sibling’s response may be confrontational or distancing. He may join the scapegoating process that is part of the family dynamics.
If the child with LD or ADHD has problems in school or with peers, the sibling may act protectively or may withdraw because he is embarrassed.
It is equally important for parents to recognize that the child with LD or ADHD may resent how easy it is for his sibling to complete assignments, make friends, excel in extracurricular activities, manage time, and receive praise from parents.