The phone rang and I rushed to answer it. It was our daughter, Madeline, calling from the National Blue Beret (NBB). The NBB is part of Civil Air Patrol. It is held during the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Airshow in Oshkosh, Wisconsin every year. The cadets are a portion of the 1,000’s of people who volunteer each year to make the largest airshow in the world run smoothly. She was excited to share all she was learning and doing at the air show. It was a great experience for her to develop her aviation and leadership skills. Beyond all the basic learning that occurred, there was a couple of sentences that she said that melted my heart as a mom. To me, it was more valuable on one level than anything else. She noticed another teen that was at the NBB with her who reminded her a lot of her sister, Lydia. She spoke of how she conversed with the young person and kept an eye out to make sure they were fine during the event. Through the two weeks, they became friends and hopefully will see each other again at another Civil Air Patrol event.
Having a sibling on the spectrum is growing to be a more common experience for families. Growing up with a sibling on the spectrum is a unique experience that both of our other children have embraced with enthusiasm and have developed relational skills that they will have for a life-time. It is heartwarming to see how our children interact with people on the spectrum without hesitation. They embrace the moments by engaging in conversations about single topics, step into high anxiety situations and quickly help the person to calm down.
Through the years I have talked to parents about the topic of sibling relationships. As a parent one wonders what it will be like. Will they get along? Will they include the sibling with autism as they get older? Will they stay close?
There has been a lot of research done on this topic. Some research shows that some siblings just “cope” with the situation while others develop qualities of empathy, compassion, and responsiveness to the needs of others. As a young mom, I read a lot of books and observed other families who had special needs children. One question that I wondered the most was, how do successful families operate when there is one with a special need?
Looking back, I remember the dreaded book reports in school. In seventh grade, I had to do a book report and the due date was drawing near. I went to my parent’s bookshelf and pulled off the thinnest book I could find. It was entitled 19 Steps up the Mountain. I quickly read the book and it had a huge impact on my life on many levels. It is about a family who adopted children. One key takeaway was that even though the kids all came from different backgrounds and had various challenges, they all had their needs met where they were at. That is what I wanted with our family. Each child had their own unique qualities and our job as parents were to meet them where they were at and in the process, the other children learned positive interactions. The results have been beyond what I ever imagined. Over the years we have been open and honest with our children about autism, and it has become part of our family. Together we have learned empathy, relaxation techniques, and coping skills.
Indiana University Center for Autism published a great article about the topic of family and sibling relationships. The article does a nice job of explaining how both positive and negative interactions play into the sibling long-term relationships. Here are a couple of the highlights to think about:
- Siblings need to experience positive responses from parents toward the sibling with autism.
- Siblings need continuous communication that is open and honest.
- All siblings need parental attention that is consistent, individualized and celebrates their uniqueness.
- Siblings need to learn skills of interaction that are positive and meet the needs of the individual.
- Siblings need to learn strategies for dealing with questions and comments from peers and others in the community.
We as parents want the best for all our children.
We as parents are examples not only to our own children but to all we come in contact with.
We as parents set the stage for all our children, whether on the spectrum or not, to be successful in life.
We as parents are important in making the world a better place to live!