Recently we brought you Scoop Essentials: Inside The World Of Siblings, a conversation about what it means to be the sibling of a person with a developmental disability.
Now, Don Meyer, director of the Sibling Support Project answers your questions about how to promote positive sibling interactions and what to do when resentment creeps into the sibling dynamic.
My 16-year-old son (gifted/ADHD) is filled with anger and resentment toward his 11-year-old brother who has a co-morbid dx of bipolar, ADHD, GAD, SID, learning disabilities and most recently Asperger’s. While my special needs child may be 11, he is more like a 6 or 7-year-old. No matter how much progress he has made my 16-year-old has no tolerance for him. He is his biggest trigger! I tried last year to get him some therapy but the therapist was not a match and now he refuses to speak with anyone. I realize my 16-year-old has been through hell and back with me and his brother but feel there has to be something more I can do. Any suggestions? — Stacy, 48
Don Meyer: Seeking out a therapist was a good idea and it was too bad that is was not a good fit. As your son is 16, he might like “The Sibling Slam Book” which was written with the help of 80 teen sibs from four countries. If you do get the book, I strongly suggest that you do not plop it in his lap. Instead, discretely place it somewhere in your home where he can discover it on his own. I also think it would be good idea to pick up the book “How to Talk So Teens Will Listen and Listen So Teens Will Talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlich. It’s a great crash course in active listening. Finally, when the time is right, your son might want to join SibNet on Facebook. He’ll find other teen sibs and a great, nonjudgmental community of people who get it. And maybe, just maybe, he’ll be open to visiting with a therapist again someday — preferably someone who understands sibs’ unique issues.
My 10-year-old son has high-functioning autism. His 4-year-old little brother absolutely idolizes him. This poses two problems. First, my 10-year-old is fairly rigid in his play and doesn’t accept much variance in routine, which causes the 4-year-old to feel left out of the decision making. If the 10-year-old doesn’t like something, he just quits playing, breaking the 4-year-old’s heart. Secondly, the 4-year-old mimics his big brother, which is normal, but the behaviors he mimics are definitely not neurotypical behaviors (i.e. walking in circles, repetitive phrasing, hand flapping, etc.). It makes me feel uncomfortable to see him mimic these behaviors. The 4-year-old is definitely not autistic. I am not ashamed of my autistic child, nor do I want his little brother to be. Do I simply let the 4-year-old mimic his hero, or should I try to stop it? — Amy, 36, Gettysburg, S.D.
Don Meyer: Do you acknowledge to your 4-year-old that your 10-year-old has autism? I don’t think we do anyone any favors by withholding information about a sibling’s disability. Just as parents don’t wait until a child is 12 before letting them know they were adopted, I think knowledge of a disability is something sibs should grow up with. A 4-year-old’s understanding of a disability will represent differences in routine and behavior. Consequently, for a 4-year-old sib, the working definition of cerebral palsy might be “cerebral palsy means that the lady comes to your house with the big ball and you roll on it and you learn how to walk.” Or autism might mean “autism means you like Thomas the Tank Engine a lot and you don’t look people in the eye and you like to line your cars up in a row.” And, for 4-year-olds, this is probably ok. It gives a foundation for a better understanding as everyone grows up. You might say to your 4-year-old, “Peter’s doing that because he has autism. Some people with autism have a hard time letting others make suggestions.” Or, “some people with autism flap their hands.” And, in a matter of fact, no-big-deal way, discuss that although “Peter” has autism, he doesn’t have it — just like Mommy and Daddy and his friend Tony don’t have autism. Finally, don’t worry too much about his copying his brother’s behaviors. Many sibs have reported “trying on” their sibs’ behaviors at some point and are no worse for having done so!
I have three children, two boys (ages 9 and 5) and a daughter (21 months) who has Down syndrome. I want to know what the typical pitfalls that parents do that alienate or estrange their typical children when there is a sibling with special needs. So far I haven’t seen any problems, but I want to know what types of things to either “avoid” or to be sure that I “do” to ensure that all three children feel equally important. — Jeanette Holahan, 37, Leander, Texas
Don Meyer: Your question is a wise one! May I recommend “What Siblings Would Like Parents and Service Providers to Know“? Written with the help of members of SibNet, our adult sibling Yahoo group, this document contains great advice. I would also encourage you to read books by sibs of all ages. You can find a list on our Web site. Your 9-year-old is the perfect age for a Sibshop! You can learn more about this lively programs for school age sibs on our Web site.