“Real Life”… SIBLING SURVEY by Tyler, Morgan & Elyse
“Real Life” with…
Tyler, Morgan & Elyse
High School Students Making a “Real Difference”
A nationwide study of the behaviors, attitudes, and views of “typically developing” (TD) children was conducted by 3 high school students for their science research program. They are trying to make a difference in the lives of children and families that have a child with “special needs”.
Elyse Blueglass: is a Junior at Somers High School. She is involved in the Science Research program, plays varsity field hockey and lacrosse and involved in Leos (a community service club). Aspires to be an elementary school teacher.
Tyler Lipperman: is a Senior at Yorktown High School and involved in the Science Research Program. He is also the Co-President of National Honor Society, on the Varsity Baseball Team, and has been working with children with special needs for three years. He hopes to pursue a career in Special Education, Physical/Occupational Therapy, or Psychology.
Morgan Blueglass: is a junior at Somers High School and in the Science Research Program. She is involved in lacrosse, field hockey, Leo’s Club (community service group), Sign Language Club (Elyse is in this as well), and babysitting. She also works as a teacher’s aide at religious school (for pre-k and kindergarteners).
The survey was created measuring the “TD” child’s behaviors, attitudes, and views towards their sibling with special needs as well as their parents. They hoped that their survey-based research would be completed by a sufficient number of families so that it would produce enough results to analyze and identify trends in these family dynamics.
Few therapies and efforts are dedicated to helping the “TD” sibling with the challenges they face. While the team was frustrated by the varied and sometimes conflicting results from the limited previous research, they were inspired by the ideas and emotions that they read about in the books from SiblingSupport.org and other sources. They wanted to be able to take a deeper and more statistically based look into the impact of raising a child with “special needs” on their “typically developing” siblings.
With this in mind, they put their inspirations into action, and attempted to create a more extensive and insightful study created by measuring the “TD” child’s behaviors, attitudes, and views towards their sibling with special needs and parents. They hoped that their survey-based research would be completed by a sufficient number of families so that it would produce enough results to analyze and identify trends in these family dynamics.
Over 1,300 surveys were distributed to 40 states across the nation. This research has become the largest and most wide scoping study of siblings of a child with “special needs” ever done. Their teacher, Michael Blueglass, contacted Parenting Special Needs Magazine to see if we would be interested in sharing their findings with our readers. So, we went directly to the students that created the survey and asked the following questions.
PSN: What was your inspiration for this project?
Elyse: I worked on a project helping students to improve their reading by using audio books. I read a book by Don Meyer and I was so interested and inspired about what it is like to have a sibling who has Special Needs. The more books and articles I read, the more I became interested about the topic and wanted to not only learn more but how to help kids who are in this kind of situation.
Tyler: I had been working with children with special needs for nearly three years and had failed to realize that special needs children had siblings with specific needs and opinions of their own, independent of their sibling with disabilities. This got me thinking about the “TD” sibling’s perspective and attitude on living with a sibling with special needs. I decided that by helping the “typically developing” children, it would also help the children with special needs
Morgan: I’ve always had an interest in working with children with “special needs”, but I never realized how much I might be able to help the siblings of those children.
PSN: During the process of this project what was your biggest surprise or “Ah-ha” moment?
Elyse: The biggest surprise for me was that we were able to send out over 1300 surveys and get about 15% mailed back. The biggest previous survey that we found had less than 60 participants. With so many people across the nation interested in helping us with our study, I was surprised by the pure quality and quantity of the results we received and how easily the results could be utilized in an everyday household setting.
Morgan: We’ve had many supportive comments from parents on the surveys we’ve gotten back, explaining to us about how just doing the survey helped them to gain a better insight and to understand their child better.
PSN: Did you have any “wow” moments?
Elyse: The biggest “wow” moment for me was when we got in touch with Don Meyer, the co-founder of the Sibling Support Project and realizing that he was entirely interested and was willing to spread the word Nation wide about our project.
Tyler: My wow moment was when my teacher Mr. Blueglass told me that it truly didn’t matter if we qualified for International Science and Engineering Fair by outperforming most of the teams in Westchester Science and Engineering Fair. What does matter and what is the point of doing research is to make a difference, and I think we definitely have the potential and opportunities with special needs parenting magazines like yours to make a difference.
Morgan: In general, I was surprised (but happy) to find out that the “TD” children who are held responsible to play a bigger role in the family dynamic and who are more involved, reported a closer relationship to their “special needs sibling and their parents.
PSN: What do you hope will result from your findings?
Elyse: I hope that our findings will help families in their challenging situation and hopefully expand to many families that did not partake in this survey, but are looking for just what we have to offer.
Tyler: I honestly hope that parents take into consideration our results and our suggestions. We are not talking about drastic changes in parenting techniques, but about increased involvement of the “TD” child in family/future planning among other things.
Morgan: To be able to share our findings through all kinds of methods (newspapers, magazines, even Oprah!) with as many families as possible.
“The great aim of education is not knowledge, but action” ~Herbert Spencer
(British social Philosopher 1820-1903)
Sibling Survey Results are…
Answers to “Questions about My Sibling with Special Needs”
If a “TD” sibling considered themselves educated on their sibling’s disability, they were more likely to report understanding the limitations their sibling has. This seemed to translate further, a child that reports understanding the limitations of their sibling disability, then they commonly reported having a close relationship/friendship with their sibling. This may be due to the “TD” child understanding their sibling enough to increase their compassion, empathy and overall level of appreciation for the challenges their sibling faces. This is supported by the strong trend showing that having a close relationship/friendship with their sibling, they often reported that they were the person to whom their special needs sibling is most likely to express their feelings to.
Answers related to “Questions about Myself”
Many children who reported feeling guilty if they’re not well behaved at home, often tended to feel guilty if they did not get good grades in school. This may be simply because some children feel more guilty in general or it may be that many “TD” siblings feel a certain sense of guilt if they do not use their abilities to the fullest. An additional correlation that seems to support this is that those that reported that they participate in extracurricular activities, commonly reported feeling lucky that they are able to join in such activities.
Answers related to “Questions about My Parents”
“TD” children that reported a feeling that their parents appreciated their success in school also (often) said that they have a close relationship with their parents.
There is a strong correlation between children that reported feeling close with their parents; they can talk to their parents about any problems they are having with their sibling. This adds credibility to the idea that when a child perceives that they are appreciated, they will commonly feel a close relationship to their parents.
The relationship between how a “TD” child feels about themselves, their views, and their values, in relation to how they feel about their sibling with “special needs”, is perhaps the most important set of correlations to analyze. For if the way the child feels about themselves directly impacts the way they feel about their sibling with “special needs” then parents can directly affect this relationship by giving attention and energy towards the “TD” child.
- they are proud of their accomplishments in school.
- they feel a need to perform all tasks as perfectly as possible.
- they feel guilty if they are not well behaved at home.
- their parents pressure them to get good grades in school.
- they feel guilty if they do not get good grades in school.
- they participate in extracurricular activities; sports, clubs, etc., and feel lucky that they are able to do so.
“TD” siblings who reported to be “angry” about their sibling with “special needs” reported that:
- they do not understand the limitations that their sibling has as a result of their disability
- they do not have a close relationship/friendship with their sibling with “special needs” they are not the person that their sibling with “special needs” is most likely to express their feelings towards.
- they do not feel that they should be responsible for their sibling with “special needs” when their parent cannot.
- they do not feel comfortable telling friends about their sibling with “special needs” and their disorder.
- they do not feel comfortable telling a potential boyfriend/girlfriend about their sibling and their disorder.
- they do not feel that they have responsibilities to supervise and care for their sibling with “special needs”.
We hope these findings will give parents a better understanding of how a sibling of a child with “special needs” may feel and the dynamics that are behind those feelings.
Thank you Tyler, Morgan and Elyse for your insightful research and for helping to make a difference in the special needs community. In addition, thank you for sharing this study with us!