April 10th is National Siblings Day…
A day where we take the time to appreciate the siblings in our lives by posting fun memes on social media with phrases like “I smile because you’re my sister. I laugh because there’s nothing you can do about it,” and “Older Siblings: The only people who will pick on you for their own entertainment and beat up anyone else who tries.”
The sibling bond is special and will be the longest-lasting relationship any of us have in our lives. Think about it—you have known your sibling longer than your spouse. Your sibling will be around long after your parents have passed. And while the sibling relationship is often as tumultuous as it is loving, many siblings would say that the sibling bond is one of their favorite love/hate relationships.
But how does that relationship differ when one sibling has special needs, particularly autism? Some of the core deficits of autism have to do with difficulty communicating and socializing. As kids, we learn many social skills from watching and interacting with our siblings. Kids with autism, however, have a difficult time with observational and incidental learning and cannot always pick up skills just by watching. Individuals with autism struggle with perspective taking and theory of mind which means keeping secrets can be difficult. When your sibling prefers to spend their time engaging in ritualistic, repetitive behaviors such as hand flapping or scripting, it can be hard to create special memories that are foundational to the sibling relationship.
While the relationship between these siblings might look different, these Sibs (siblings of kids with special needs) are remarkable individuals who are often their sibling’s strongest ally. Research has shown that the experiences of Sibs often parallels that of their parents—these Sibs go through the same types of ups and downs as that of the parents. “…Although brothers and sisters have the longest-lasting relationships in the family, siblings…have, compared to their parents, far fewer opportunities to gain access to programs, services, and professional support.” (SibShop, Meyer & Vadasy).
There are several concerns that can arise for Sibs including over-identification, guilt, and isolation, to name a few. While not all Sibs will experience these issues, it is important to be aware of them and provide support for Sibs when they need it. SibShops by Donald Meyer and Patricia Vadasy is a great resource for how to address these and other issues, and includes testimonials and quotes from Sibs on these issues.
The SibShops book also shares some of the opportunities for Sibs. “My overriding impression of siblings is of amazing resilience. They go through the experience with the same intensity as the [sibling] and the parents, but often on the sidelines. They come out whole, with a maturity, with a different view of things. (Sourkes, 1990, p.11)” (SibShop, Meyer & Vadasy). These Sibs are often more mature than their peers, highly socially competent, patient and accepting of differences, and value in others traits like compassion, loyalty, and humor, even at a young age. Sibs often talk about their sibling in terms of their abilities instead of just focusing on their disabilities. Many Sibs go into helping professions and take on an advocacy role for their sibling. These Sibs are tough, patient, compassionate, and resilient.
So on National Sibling Day, take an extra minute to truly appreciate the Sibs in your life and let them know how truly awesome you think they are!
Resources for Sibs:
- Texas Sibling Leadership Network is a group of adult Sibs who hold meetings and events for support and advocacy of their special needs siblings. Visit their website or follow them on Facebook.
- Brothers and Sisters: A Special Part of Exceptional Families by Peggy Gallagher, Thomas H. Powell, and Cheryl Rhodes (2006)
- The Sibling Survival Guide: Indispensable Information for Brothers and Sisters of Adults with Disabilities by Donald J. Meyer, and Emily Holl.
- SibShops are workshops and events made just for Sibs that are held throughout the country! Visit their website for more information about upcoming SibShops and for how to become a SibShop host.
- InKids is dedicated to helping individuals with autism and their amazing Sibs! Our Sib Club is held every Thursday from 4:30pm-5:30 pm. Visit our website for more information www.includingkids.org.
Nichole O’Donnell is a Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst and serves as the Community Outreach Director for Including Kids. Since beginning her work at Including Kids in 2007, Nichole has worked with children, adolescents and adults as a direct-care therapist, inclusion shadow, Case Supervisor, Reading Specialist, Project Manager, and Community Outreach Director. Nichole has a passion for teaching social skills and executive functioning skills and for sharing her knowledge with parents, staff and the community.