How to deal with having a special-needs sibling

Starlight asks: My big brother is two years older than me. He has a disability that makes it hard for him to talk. He can talk but he can’t say the words right so you can’t understand him a lot. We go to the same school. He is grade 6 and I am in grade 4. Why is his schoolwork a lot easier than mine? His work is like grade 1 work. I am on a higher reading level too. He still reads books with pictures in them. His homework is so much easier then mine. The kids at school are mean to him and he doesn’t have many friends, so I some times feel sad for him. My mum and dad treat us different. I don’t know why but I feel like I am older and he is more like my little brother.

Hi Starlight –



I don’t know anything about your brother except what you’ve told me, of course, but it sounds to me like you’re right – in a lot of ways you are the older one. But I’ll change that and say, you’re the more highly developed one.


Let me explain what I mean. If you and I were born on the same day, we’d have both begun as helpless little infants. But a month later, you’d still have been a helpless, gurgling baby, while I’d have started walking already. And by the time we were six months old, you’d be maybe starting to crawl, while I was running laps around the yard, and starting training classes where I’d learn about ten words. And when we were each a year, you’d be just starting to walk, and I’d already be my full adult size. So I would have been far more developed than you.


But then, you’d have started to pass me waaaay by. You’d start talking, which I still can’t do. And while your walking wouldn’t be as graceful as mine yet, you’d have kept learning more, to the degree that by the time we were three or four years old, you could start dancing school if you wanted, or karate classes, or tennis lessons – none of which I could do. I really stopped my development by age one, except in some emotional maturity, which I reached around age five. Which is when you would be starting school and learning to read, write, do mathematics… and on and on it goes.


My point is that age isn’t really all that important. There are other differences between us that matter more, in terms of development. So sure, your brother was born first. But he has some developmental issues (though I can’t say what they are) that have hurt his speaking abilities, and have the school believing that he’s not capable of the same level of schoolwork you are.


Teachers try to give all their students work that challenges them, but isn’t too difficult for them. So it sounds like they’re giving you more advanced work than your brother because they believe you two are at these two different levels. If they’re correct, it’s likely you will continue to be ahead of him in that area, and possibly some others. It doesn’t mean anyone’s doing anything wrong; everyone’s doing their best to give you and him the best treatment they can. Including your parents.


But I will throw one story in about this. When my human friend Handsome was growing up, he knew a family where the oldest child was considered very developmentally delayed, to the degree the family put him in a special home, and raised his two younger siblings instead. But at some point, the home found out that the oldest boy just had a learning problem, and with the right help was able to speak, read, and write just as well as his younger brother and sister. And by the time Handsome met them, he couldn’t tell what problems the oldest boy had ever had.


So that’s why I can’t say what your brother’s issues are. Maybe he just has a speech impediment, and is a slow learner, and maybe there’s more going on. But for now, your job is to be a wonderful supporter of him (especially when those other kids are mean), but to also make sure you get the attention you deserve. Because whatever his issues are, you matter too. Just as much.


All my best,




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