In brief

3rd December 2004 at 00:00
Siblings: coming unstuck and putting back the pieces

By Kate Strohm

David Fulton pound;12.99

I have many good memories of working in a school for children with severe and multiple learning difficulties. I particularly remember the end of the school day, when the children were helped on to their buses for the journey home. As the buses pulled away I was always struck by the thought that, although we'd usually had a difficult day, the challenge for the homes where the children were heading was of quite a different order.

I was thinking, naturally enough, of the parents, which underlines the message of this book: that the siblings of children with special needs carry a burden that's heavier for often being unrecognised.

Kate Strohm, whose sister Helen has cerebral palsy, is clearly the right person to explore not just what life is like for people in her position, but to offer insights and ways forward for parents and professionals. After telling her story, she invites contributions from others. The overwhelming impression is of people whose lives have been skewed, but who display an understandable mixture of compassion, love, isolation, secret resentment and associated guilt.

"For a long time I carried a sad torch for him, in the form of a constant inner sadness, not allowing myself to enjoy real happiness without always being sure to remind myself of his misfortune," writes Eliza, whose brother has intellectual disabilities.

This is an important book: reassuring to other siblings, helpful to parents and essential reading for professionals.

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