The Parent Notebook October 2013 : Page 18

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Siblings... The True Superheroes!

Siblings of children with autism will more than likely face some difficult challenges.Without having much choice in the family's situation, siblings will at one time or another have to deal with;

• Having to explain their sibling's behavior to friends at home, at school, or in their community.

• Feeling they should hold back from sharing any negative feelings about their situation with their parents as to not add to the already stressful home-life.

• Feeling they need to "help" or "care for " their sibling with autism.

These are just a few examples of the emotional impact autism may have on some siblings. Emotions such as jealousy, embarrassment, or anger are not uncommon in the sibling living with a brother or sister with autism.Research by Debra Lobato found that siblings describing their own experiences consistently mentioned their parents' reactions, acceptance and adjustment as the most significant influence on their experience of having a brother or sister with a disability.

Research by Susan McHale and colleagues found that siblings without disabilities viewed their relationship with their brother or sister with autism as positive when:

• they had an understanding of the siblings disability.

• they had well developed coping abilities.

• they experienced positive responses from parents and peers toward the sibling with autism.

Valuable Support

Support for siblings of children with autism can greatly help them cope. Using a journal or workbook such as The Other Kid, by Lorraine Donlon, is a draw-it-out guidebook for kids with a special needs sibling. It gives children a way to open up and talk about their feelings.The book mentions the positive side for siblings such as developing empathy, loyalty, and love. Mobile therapists can sometimes be an option for siblings when they work directly in the home. Some therapists are willing to set aside time to talk, play, or interact with siblings. This gives the sibling some one-on-one attention, a listening ear that is objective and neutral, and the chance to share their emotions, which can be very therapeutic. It can also give parents insightful information about issues they may need to address or investigate further. When parents offer the sibling(s) age appropriate information about their brother or sister, openly discuss emotions, and set aside special time to spend with each child, it can help siblings adjust.

The Positive Side

The sibling can have an extremely positive effect on their brother or sister with autism. Being a role model for appropriate behavior, communication, and social skills act as a continuous teaching tool. Some instructors of social skills classes ask parents to allow a sibling to attend along with their brother or sister just to have that positive influence on the student's behavior.

A sibling learns by observing their parents' interaction with their brother or sister some important attributes. These attributes are sure to include how to be patient, tolerate negativity from others, be accepting, be dedicated, and most importantly, never give up no matter how difficult the situation. Learning these countless life lessons on a daily basis can give siblings a huge advantage in life. Children learn from their experiences and what better way to learn kindness, understanding, and acceptance than by watching their parents' interaction with their sibling with autism.

Making the World a Better Place

There are many organizations and blogs that exist because of individuals who have had a personal experience with autism.Caroline McGraw's honest and personal blog along with her storytelling talent, was inspired by living with her younger brother Willie. Her blog, who's name was her brother's idea, is called A Wish Come Clear. Although Caroline has a successful career as an author, speaker, and copywriter, she truthfully states, "I'm Still learning what it means to love someone as they are, not as I wish they would be." Caroline's family experience with autism has even been captured in the documentary film My Brother. The 14 minute film is about "the process of finding meaning and beauty in challenging relationships", and can be viewed from the Wish Come Clear site.

The blog Supersiblings.org was created in 2012 by Maureen Chesus. It provides siblings support, resources, and most importantly, acknowledgment. Maureen's younger brother Connor has autism and was diagnosed when she was 9 years old. Even though her brother's autism brought many negative and painful times growing up, she has now reached a healthier place in her relationship with autism. Her blog is a wonderful resource of information for siblings, and a place to find out about meet-up groups that are currently held in Los Angeles, and soon to be in Boston as well. Maureen's definition of Supersiblings is that they are "extremely valuable people that have many special gifts and traits that others do not."

A Supportive Community

Whether it be in a school setting, family gatherings, or out in the community, siblings will eventually face situations with their brother or sister with autism that activates a response. It is then they can choose to stand strong and support their sibling no matter how uncomfortable it may feel, or stay neutral until the moment passes. There is no " right " or "wrong" way to react in those moments, but some siblings become a "super hero" advocate, protecting and sometimes defending their brother or sister.There are some who believe siblings of children with autism are more mature than their peers, and more tolerant of others' differences.As a parent watching my daughters' relationship grow, and a sister becoming stronger despite her sister's challenges, it is reassuring to know there are adult siblings out there doing amazing, positive things. Siblings and parents can take comfort in the resources available to stay connected, hopeful and positive as a community. Autism may make a sibling's life challenging, but also make a sibling's life more meaningful.

Lori DeMonia is the author of the children's book Leah's Voice, Behavioral Health TSS (therapeutic support staff) with the Chester County Intermediate Unit and Parent Consultant with the Pennsylvania Education For All Coalition

References:

• Lobato, D.J. (1990). Brothers. Sisters, and special needs; Information and activities for helping young siblings of children with chronic illnesses and developmental disabilities. Baltimore, MD: Paul Brookes Publishing Co.

• The Other Kid by Lorraine Donlon, website www.theotherkid.com

• (Autismsa.org.au How does it affect brothers and sisters?)

• A Wish Come Clear, www.awishcomeclear.com, by Caroline McGraw

• www.Supersiblings.org blog by Maureen Chesus

Read the full article at http://trendmag2.trendoffset.com/article/Siblings...+The+True+Superheroes%21/1525647/178066/article.html.

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