Siblingship bonds to social bonds

Having taken his place within the family nest, the child must find his place in other groups (the kindergarten, school, leisure activities, work, etc.). All stages in the cycle of life involve crossing from one place, group, or condition to another, a passage that is signified and orchestrated by the prevailing culture, customs, and laws and, thus, by a societal context.

While the non-disabled brother can play the role of "go-between" towards social life for the disabled sibling by acting as a link towards "non-family" and "non-disabled" objects, this cannot be reciprocated; indeed, while the disabled person has friends at the social and medical institution, he is only extremely rarely invested in as a friend in turn by that person's brothers and sisters. This is something of which the disabled person is well aware.

Seven-year-old Marc is kept down in the last year of nursery school. He walks, but is unsteady and often falls during recreation. He can write, but with great difficulty and has serious elocution problems.

As from the age of three, he went to the local school with his twin brother but in different classes. While his brother went on to primary school, Marc stayed on at the nursery.

I met him at a time when his teacher was complaining that Marc was becoming more and more disruptive in class, especially by talking very loudly, dribbling a lot, and falling over more often, which aroused reactions among the other children that were sometimes difficult to channel. This attitude contrasts with the fact that, until then, everyone was delighted by what was considered by both teachers and parents to be a perfectly successful integration at school.

At the end of the previous year, it was decided to keep Marc on at the nursery school because Marc was "slower" and had only come to school half time for the first two years. Reasons of intellectual deficiencies were not mentioned then, but now his teacher starts to bring up the issue of cognitive deficiency.

Marc explained that last year the other pupils played with him because his brother forced them to, but now, with this support lost, he found himself alone during recreation. He added that lessons went too fast for him, that the teacher became too demanding, and that he could not put up with having his professional classroom assistant "breathing down his neck". He said he was tired and summed things up as follows: "Last year, I wasn't that disabled but now I really am."

Followed, as he is, by a home social work service and integrated individually, Marc has never been extensively in contact with children who, like him, encounter similar difficulties. This individual integration with a brother who created a link with school pals actually created a false sense of security (adhered to by all) but that turned out to bear a heavy price for Marc to pay psychologically. To tell adults and children alike and have them acknowledge the reality of his situation (that he can no longer ignore), all that was left to him were behavioural disorders that further compounded his difficulties.

That false sense of security already mentioned also, in part, prevented other children from exchanging directly with him and making bonds other than those remotely controlled or pre-formatted by adults and his brother.

For the disabled child, the opportunity to be chosen as a friend by others is a major issue. The way in which services to be asked of others are gauged represents a kind of alchemy that calls on all the subject's intelligence and vigilance. This vigilance and the calculations it involves demand of them considerable psychic energy and the child does not always wish to seek help from parents or teachers. Thus, many children with disabilities suffer from being unable to create bonds on level terms with their peers who, at best, help them just as adults could be expected to do or, at worst, mistreat them or ignore them.

This situation can hardly remain tolerable for very long as the disabled child, like all other children, has an overriding need to build his or her own personality through creating bonds on relatively equal terms, real bonds and not just relations or interactions.

To do so, there is a need to choose, and be chosen by one's peers, to create pacts and alliances with them as mentioned at the start of the present section.

When the adult is attentive to the child, it is relatively easy finally to identify the moment when "just social" relations are no longer enough, when the child ceases to put up with the idea of "just" being the one who is always different, never like the others, never able to jointly choose those with whom they will establish the most intimate and reciprocal bonds.

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