Monday, March 12, 2007

More Info: Support Groups for Siblings of Kids With Autism

More information arrived in response to "Ideas for Finding a Sibling Support Group" posted here March 8.

Don Meyer, director of the Sibling Support Project in Seattle, wrote that his Seattle-based group provides training and technical assistance to create "Sibshops" and that there are now close to 200 sibling support groups in eight countries. "We'd be happy to talk to anyone who is interested in creating a Sibshop or similar sibling program in their community," he added.

The Sibling Support Project provides this support to families of people with disabilities besides autism. The organization also provides support via an online discussion group for both young siblings and adult siblings of people with various disabilities. You can go to, or write to the group at: Sibling Support Project, A Kindering Center Program, 6512 23rd Avenue NW, No. 213, Seattle, WA 98117.

Some parents who responded to the earlier article on sibling groups mentioned that their children, older brothers and sisters of kids with autism, said they weren't interested in support groups. That's great, of course, but based on the literature at this Seattle-based project, it might be wise to revisit those answers some time in the future. In the meantime, it could be helpful for all parents who have both "typically developing" children and children on the autism spectrum to check out this article: "What Siblings Would Like Parents and Service Providers to Know." This is a list that was developed by Sibling Support Project participants in an online forum, which includes adults. Among items on the list:

* "The right to one's own life" -- parents and siblings should not make assumptions about the responsibilities of typically-developing siblings "without a frank and open discussion. It's a matter of self-determination.

* "Acknowledging siblings' concerns" -- brothers and sisters "will experience a wide array of often ambivalent emotions regarding the impact of their siblings' special needs. These feelings should be both expected and acknowledged." Noted: most siblings, because they are expected to survive their parents, will have the longest-lasting relationship with the family member who has a disability.

* "Expectations for typically-developing siblings." don't set them unrealistically high. Some siblings "feel that they must somehow compensate for their siblings' special needs. Parents can help their typically-developing children by conveying clear expectations and unconditional support.

* What kind of behavior to expect from typically-developing siblings: typical. That is, they will fight and treat their siblings with disabilities badly, like other kids do. Then comes this quote from the siblings' discussion paper:

When conflict arises, the message sent to many brothers and sisters is, "Leave your sibling alone. You are bigger, you are stronger, you should know better. It is your job to compromise." Typically-developing siblings deserve a life where they, like other children, sometimes misbehave, get angry, and fight with their siblings.

Thought-provoking stuff, no matter what your kids' ages.

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