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Curtin University of Technology
Twins and Multiples

A disabled family?

From Shere. M.O. (1956) Socio-emotional factors in families of the twin with cerebral palsy. Exceptional Children, 23:197-208.

This picture from Shere's study in 1956 raises two questions:

(i) the image of the other twin in the background does emphasise the pathos of having a twin or higher multiple with a disability. How do you feel when they are getting their therapy and you are ignored?

(ii) this is the only study of its kind. There have since been many studies of siblings of disabled children and even some of twins with a "disability" in the most general sense. But the impact of every disability is different and Shere was the only one who focussed in on just one key group. Now we have many more multiples and many more with Cerebral Palsy (who often in the past would have died).

In the 1990's we often used the phrase "There is no disabled child, there is a disabled family". We cringe in embarrassment at this now, since it is clear so many families with a disabled child are doing well. So also are the brothers or sisters of those with a disability. But consider this quote from Shere

"This study appears to suggest that the condition of cerebral palsy can be more harmful to the social and emotional development of the non-cerebral palsied child than it is to his cerebral palsied twin" (Page 206).

Effects on specific members of the family.

It is important to recognise that effects may differ between the parents, the non-multiple siblings and the comultiples.

One thing parents and schools rarely recognise is the burden many multiples feel about supporting their disabled multiple in later life. There have been few adequate studies of multiples, but work with siblings aged as young as 8-9 years indicate they are already thinking about how they will contribute to support for their disabled sibling in adulthood. With multiples, the perceived obligation must be even greater. You may have other siblings, but

Being the twin or higher multiple of the disabled child, are you expected to be the one who will do the most in terms of support, once the parents can no longer manage?