Overcoming the loneliness of siblingship

Jahnavi was excited to become an older sister, but when Keshav was born with complex disabilities she realised their relationship would be different. Now age 15, Jahnavi, talks to us about how Sense Siblings service has supported her.

My family came to England from India about two years ago, when I was 13-years-old. It was just before the pandemic so we spent a lot of time together as a family.

Keshav, my little brother, was born with complex disabilities when I was about four. I remember really looking forward to having a brother to play with. But Keshav, like lots of others with autism, prefers to be by himself. We can’t play like other siblings and mum worries that I’m missing out all the fighting and affection.

It’s hard for people who don’t have disabled siblings to really understand. I spend a lot of time on my own.

In India, we used to invite some friends over. They knew about Keshav and, even though he never wanted to join in our games, everyone felt comfortable hanging out at my home. Since we’ve been in this country, I haven’t invited any friends over. As the lockdown started soon after we moved here I started to become quite shy and stopped meeting new people.

Sense gave me somewhere to fit in

My mum first heard about Sense at a virtual coffee morning and she was very excited about the Siblings service. She told me that it would be a chance for me to meet other siblings like me, who have a family member with a disability.

I was pretty nervous about meeting new people. Even though I’m friendly I find it hard to make friends, maybe because I’m not able to be very social at home with my brother. My mum told me that if I didn’t like it, I didn’t have ever have to go again.

That session was the first time I met other siblings who had brothers or sisters with disabilities. We were all on the same page and it was easy to feel included and connected straight away. This was a different experience for me as often I’ve felt excluded from groups, usually because they talk about things that have nothing to do with my life. But here, I didn’t feel like I was different.

New friends and a new me

Jahnavi with a group of friends outside, smiling at the camera during a break from their football game

There are so many different activities at the Sense sessions. Dancing, mindfulness, bowling and football – and lots of pizza! Since I first started the Sibling service back in August 2021, I’ve become happier taking part in activities. It’s easier for me to talk to new people and make friends.

There is one person in the group that I’m really good friends with. We talk a lot outside of the sessions. I can talk about my life without having to explain it to someone who has no clue what it’s like. Having friends like this helps me not to feel alone. We’re facing our situations together.

My relationship with my brother has stayed the same but I feel like a different person.