The World Within: A place for siblings



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Posted on December 29, 2009 at 4:54 PM

When 5-year-old Alyssa is ready to play, she runs with her new puppy Mulan. In the Runge household the twins turn to each other.  And, for 9-year-old Arthur Davis, there's big sister Jace, who will play a game of tag - on skates - whenever asked.

"Well, usually I never catch him because he's pretty fast," said Jace.

"She'll chase him around the house and she'll say to me later, it's like he doesn't have autism when I'm chasing him," said mom Katrina.

For the moment, everything in the Davis household seems typical, but, then the harsh realities of autism take over.

"Sometimes if he doesn't get the toy he wants he screams, or sometimes just for no reason," said Jace.

And sometimes, Arthur's abrupt behavior can be upsetting to his big sister.

"Because he is challenging and she is 12 and he's embarrassing sometimes in front of her friends and he does weird things and says weird things," said Katrina. "But, given all that I think she has a lot of patience and a lot of unconditional love for him."

It isn't easy having a brother or sister with autism. The responsibilities are huge, and often overlooked. 

"Brothers and sisters of kids with autism or any special needs can sometimes feel invisible," said Don Meyer, director of the Sibling Support Project.

Meyer is the author of several books on the subject. Plus, he's the creator of "Sibshops," events that celebrate the siblings of kids with special needs.

"This is something just for them. it's not for their brothers or sisters the ones with special needs," he said. "Goodness knows there's things just for them, and there's things just for their parents, but this is for them because we think they bring a lot to the party."

It's not therapy or a support group, but a fun, gathering that gets kids, like Jace, talking and interacting with each other. 

Today there are more than 200 Sibshops world wide - all of them modeled after the first one, started at Seattle Children's.

The activities range from glittery to goofy. But, the benefits are nothing to laugh at.

"If we attend to sibs as they grow up and recognize that they are there and give them a chance to meet their peers and get some information we increase the chances that they will elect to remain lovingly involved in the lives of their brothers and sisters when their parents no longer can," said Meyer.

It's easy to see the role Jace plays in her brother's life.

"I think he's going to live with my parents and I will visit him a lot," said Jace. "But when they die he could live with me."