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The "Well Sibling" Syndrome

This is what I get for crawling into bed at 5:00 PM. I spent most of the day trying to deny the fact that I'm sick so the kids could go to the beach. When I got home I went straight to bed as remaining up right was increasingly difficult. Now I'm wide awake and need something to occupy me. I'm not quite well enough to tackle any housework so I'm blogging.

I've been meaning to comment a bit further on this post about siblings of children with mental illnesses. Shortly after I blogged about the story I told some friends, other moms with autistic children, about it. Their overwhelming response was that things did not have to turn out badly for the typical child(ren). A week or two later (I forget now how much time passed) one of the elders at my church commented to me about his experiences with his sibling who was mentally retarded. His message was much the same as that of the moms I mentioned the story to.

The "well sibling" syndrome does not have to be one of feeling neglected or abandoned in favour of the afflicted child. I was reminded that having someone with mental illness in the family can lead to greater compassion, strength of character, and understanding in the typical siblings. I guess it all comes down to how you choose to look at your situation and what lessons you choose to teach all of your children.

Still a daunting task to be sure but I'm glad that I was reminded of the silver lining of the cloud I was looking at. Or perhaps that it's not really a cloud at all. I suppose the next big challenge will be explaining autism to the kids. How do you explain autism to an autistic 6 year old, an autistic (almost) 5 year old, and a typical 2.5 year old? I don't think the boys realise how different they are from their peers but sooner or later Sophia might begin to realise that something is different about her brothers.

I take some comfort from the fact that others have walked the path I am on before me. I don't have to reinvent the wheel so to speak. I just have to adapt it for my particular situation.


  1. You say that some mothers of autistic children and a man with a brother who was mentally retarded thought that well-children could grow positively, rather than negatively, from growing up with an atypical sibling. First, I want to say that having a sibling with mental retardation is very different than having a sibling with a severe mood disorder. I agree that in some situations it is very possible for well-siblings to grow from the experience, to gain compassion and understanding. But not always. My brother has severe Bipolar, diagnosed when he was 12, and for a long time we all did our best to empathize. I still do, but I can only do so from a distance. He was constantly threatening to kill me and my other brother, phyiscally hurting us as well as throwing out constant insults. Horrible things that I could never imagine people would say, until he did. He tried to mess with our minds. He was dellusional. I thought he was going to kill me. I had to move out of the house at age 17. My parents had ignored me for 4 years because of him. It was no one's fault, but now I have PTSD and major depression. No one really pays much attention to well-siblings.

  2. I spent a third if my childhood not living at home as a result of my horrifically violent, mentally ill older sister. When she was violent, I was periodically exiled from the family home -- sent to live with my best friend or grandparents for weeks and months at a time. It was not fair. It was not right. Yes, I did turn out fine (ummmm, no mental illness likely had something to do with it) but as a grownup am not close to either of my parents and will have nothing to do with my sister. Our parents are heartbroken.

    But if my, say, husband had stabbed my deeply enough to require six stitches (twice! A year apart!), nobody would fault me for leaving him. But because my SISTER stabbed me, the world at large is disappointed that I have no relationship w/sister and begs me to reconcile!


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