This months guest contributor is Holly Kane. Holly is one of our invaluable RBT's here at OBA and is currently working on a program to support siblings of children with autism and other exceptionalities.
Navigating the world as a sibling of a neurodiverse person is a unique and enlightening experience, and it is one that is accompanied by many profound emotions and thoughts. When I entered adolescence, I searched for sibling support; hoping to connect and relate to others going through a similar experience. However, I never did find that support. This lit a spark in me to bring awareness to a group that has been overlooked. I dedicated my Bachelor of Social Work to researching the impact of ASD on families and siblings, and I continue to incorporate it into my current studies as a Master of ADS student. Although many of my own experiences have helped me to develop some of my favourite qualities and have influenced this career path, I have also chosen this career path to bring light to the complex reality that siblings can face.
What I’ve learned through my personal and academic experience is that not one sibling’s experience will be the same, but we are all connected by playing the roles of protector, mentor, interpreter, mediator, teacher, etc., for our sibling. We begin filling these roles from a young age, whether we are incorporated into behaviour programming, attempting to educate our friends on ASD, training our family members on how to use our sibling’s communication system, or navigating the inevitable bullying. My role as a mentor and teacher began at four years old, as I was incorporated into my sister's play and social skills programs. These roles have now transpired into riding around on the city bus, learning her route to and from her work. I distinctly remember the day she got hired, as the first thing we did was research the route. However, we first got familiar with the bus by taking a celebratory dinner trip to McDonalds!
Although we often take on these roles naturally, it is important to remember that we are our own person, not just a sibling. We have our own relationships, challenges, likes, dislikes, feelings, thoughts, and goals. As I said, being a sibling to a neurodiverse person is so beautifully complex and we are a group of individuals that would also benefit from support. If you are a parent reading this that has a child who has a neurodiverse sibling, I hope this has provided some perspective. If you are a sibling to someone who is neurodiverse, I hope you find solace in this message – you are not alone. Parents, while you and your child(ren) navigate this together, remember they are their own person, and their feelings, thoughts, and perspectives are valid. You can support their sibling journey by offering them emotional support and information about their siblings’ diagnoses, but the best way you can support them is to ask them what they need. At the end of the day, this is a unique challenge that life has presented to us, but please remember, you are not alone in this journey.