5 Tips to promote well-being in siblings of children with disabilities (Part 2)

Talk - Sibling of Autism
If your child’s disability is affecting the time and attention their siblings are getting, acknowledge that.

This is Part 2 of our 10-Part blog series about the challenges and experiences of the siblings of kids with a diagnosis. Be sure to check back for future posts in the series. 

Read all posts from this series: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

As Jess expressed it in her blog post yesterday, growing up as a sibling of a child with disabilities is not always easy. Whether it is because their life is arranged around their sibling’s appointments, because they get bullied at school as a result of a sibling with a disability, or because they worry about their family’s well-being, we know that these children are at a greater risk of developing a range of emotional and behavioural problems than those raised with typically developing children. No matter whether these problems arise out of feelings of jealousy over the sibling being ‘allowed’ to misbehave when they’re not, or worry over their family’s situation, they are important to acknowledge. A recent study (Vermaes et al., 2013) showed that siblings of children with chronic health problems were at an increased risk of developing internalizing problems like anxiety and depression.

By now, you’re probably thinking ‘Well, that’s really the last thing I need to add on my plate!’. Thankfully though, there are some fairly simple ways to make things easier for your typically developing children-without you feeling even more overwhelmed than you already are:

  1. Be open about the unfairness of the situation. If your child’s disability is affecting the time and attention their siblings are getting, acknowledge that. The goal here is not to make the child with a disability feel bad for the situation, but rather to let the typically developing child know that you recognize they have needs too. [click to tweet]
  2. Create ‘special time’ with each child. ‘Special time’ is time dedicated from one parent alone with only one child. The time commitment here does not need to be particularly long: even only 5 minutes per day would suffice- as long as it is clear during that time that children will not be competing for your attention. [click to tweet]
  3. Let your typically developing child know that it’s okay to have negative feelings towards their siblings from time to time. What they are feeling is normal, and you do not love them any less because of it. [click to tweet]
  4. Make sure your child has a safe place to share these feelings. For those children who feel uncomfortable discussing their feelings with their parents, a sibling group may be helpful. It’s a great way to meet other youth going through similar things. Even if the time spent in the group isn’t always spent discussing the experience of having a sibling with a disability, it feels nice to know that others feel the same way you are and won’t judge you for it.  [click to tweet]
  5. Sometimes, siblings need their own special time where they feel free to talk about their feelings with an adult outside the family. If the child is not experiencing severe difficulties, trying to set up a Big Brother or Big Sister might be a good idea. However, sometimes, professional help is needed. The important part is that your child finds someone they can connect and share their feelings with. [click to tweet]

Check back next Wednesday for How I learned about my brother’s autism diagnosis (Part 3) or as Jess would call it, the Donkey Conversation!

What’s it like to be a sibling of a child with autism – the secret lives of siblings (Part 1)

Me and my brother with autism
When people ask me what it’s like to be a sibling of a brother with autism, I tell them with absolute sincerity of the wonderfully close relationship we’ve always had.

This is Part 1 of our 10-Part blog series about the challenges and experiences of the siblings of kids with a diagnosis. Be sure to check back for future posts in the series.

Read all posts from this series: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

By Jess Urcuyo

When people ask me what it’s like to be a sibling of a brother with autism, I tell them with absolute sincerity of the wonderfully close relationship we’ve always had, that he was my inspiration to become an Occupational Therapist, and that he’s taught me to see the world as full of opportunities and potential instead of setbacks and obstacles.

I don’t tell them about my 13-year-old-self.

My 13-year-old-self didn’t need an alarm clock. She was woken every morning at the same time to the same cassette tape playing the same segment of the same story until the glorious day that tape finally snapped. She was the girl who stood in the street and yelled awareness at the village ‘big kids’ because they teased her brother because of his autism. She was the ‘good’ child, you know, the one who didn’t have any problems. The one who would hold onto secrets of being bullied long after she left school because she thought her family had enough on their plates.

Then one day, she found a book at a thrift store; The Other Child, by Linda Scotson. A book about siblings of kids with exceptionalities. There was a chapter entitled I’d Like to Kick Stuart’s Head In. She blushed from head to toe, and as nonchalantly as she could, she dropped it in her parents’ shopping basket.

I remember that night vividly. I stayed awake long after my bed-time, reading like my life depended on it. That book was a glimpse into a whole new world. A world where it was ok for siblings to experience real feelings and talk about them. It would still be many moons before I’d open up about some of the challenges I’d been through as a result of being a sister of a child with autism, but the delicious taste of that exotic cuisine was on my tongue, and I was hungry.

My Brother is Autistic
It was tough enough just to get my brother’s autism recognized.

In fairness to my parents, they did everything they knew how to, to equalize our family life. But life through the lens of a sibling wasn’t the hot topic on anyone’s agenda back in the ‘90s. It was tough enough just to get my brother’s autism recognized.

Are we any the wiser these days? I’d like to think so. But in the fast pace of life with its endless juggle of priorities, the picks ups and drop offs, the meltdowns and breakdowns, it can be easy to lose sight of the sibling experience. Some siblings might need professional support to help them on their personal journey. For others, a genuine acknowledgement that it’s ok for them to have their own achievements, challenges, and needs can go a long way towards opening up the conversation.

For the record, I’ve never once wanted to ‘kick Stuart’s head in’. But the book still sits on my shelf as a gentle reminder of the liberation that one short sentence once held for me.

Check back tomorrow for Tips to promote well-being in siblings of children with disabilities (Part 2).

5 Tips to keep your children strong in the face of terrorism

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Written by Marie-Eve Dubois

This week, we’ve been surprised and shocked by brutal and violent attacks against Canadian military. On Monday, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent was rammed over and killed, only 20 minutes away from my hometown, where one of my uncle is a military. On Wednesday, Cpl Nathan Cirillo was shot in front the National War Memorial in Ottawa. Needless to say, these attacks have hit close to home. As Canadians, this is not a reality we are used to- we live in a peaceful and safe country, right?

Now that our reality has changed and that these attacks are all we hear about on TV, one important question for many parents is: ‘Should I talk about this with my children? How?’ While it may seem tempting not to talk about this topic for fear that it will make children worry, this approach is one that may actually backfire. Remember that having a child keep their anxious feelings to themselves will be more damaging then having an open discussion about it. And ultimately, if they don’t hear about it from you, they will hear about it elsewhere (school, friends, etc.).

Here are a few steps if you’re wondering about how to have this discussion:

  1. Ask your children what they have heard about the events. It is not unusual for news to get distorted-think Chinese telephone. You want to make sure the information your child has is accurate. [click to tweet]
  2. Explore what is confusing, scary or troublesome for your child. Once information has entered our brain, we can interpret it in numerous ways. [click to tweet]
  3. Validate your child’s emotions. It is normal to be shocked and scared. Telling a child not to worry won’t make it better. [click to tweet]
  4. Examine what your child is making of that information and those feelings. Is your child paralyzed by fear? Does he have unrealistic ideas about what could happen? If so, try to deconstruct those thoughts. [click to tweet]
  5. Be ready to answer questions and address fears for a little while. New issues and concerns may appear over time as a child mulls over the events, develops an understanding of what has happened and what it implies. [click to tweet]

Keep in mind that these strategies should be adapted to each child’s developmental level. Also, each child will respond differently to these types of events, depending on their personality. Children who have a tendency to be anxious may react more strongly to these types of events.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims. In the face of terrorism, let’s stay strong.

How to Prepare for Halloween with Children with Special Needs

how-to-prepare-for-halloween-with-special-needs-children

It’s time again to get ready for Halloween!

For many families this means choosing costumes to wear and candies to distribute to our little “Trick or Treaters.”

With food allergies, food sensitivities and childhood obesity becoming increasing concerns in our society, we are welcoming and encouraging a new Halloween fad. Why not try offering non-food or non-candy treat options to your little ‘trick-or-treaters’ this year?  Here are some suggested ideas:

  • A page of fun stickers
  • Bubbles
  • Bracelets
  • Toy cars
  • Decorative pens
  • Bouncy balls
  • Decorated adhesive bandages
  • Mini pumpkins
  • Whistles
  • Charms
  • Balls of homemade play-dough
  • Reusable twisty straws
  • Hair barrettes
  • If you are crafty, you could decorate items. Maybe, glue some googly eyes to little acorns or twist black pipe cleaners around black pencils to make them look like spiders!

If you, yourself, have a little one who would benefit from non-food treats, you may wish to begin to drop subtle hints to friendly neighbors soon. For example,  ‘Have you heard about the non-food treat option fad? I’m excited to be doing something to keep Halloween fun, while still considering our children’s health. We’re trying to decide if bouncy balls or princess and car bandages would be more liked.”

You could also print off the attached sign to carry with you on Halloween, as a visual request.

We don’t wish to rain on the Halloween parade, as distributing candy has been an exciting tradition for our children for many years. We’re just hoping to see a few pumpkin erasers amongst the pumpkin candies in more and more Halloween bowls to come!

The team at Canoe wishes you a happy, safe and healthy Halloween!!!