Home to one of the largest intensive intervention and diagnostic centers for autism, Nationwide Children’s Hospital has long been recognized as a leader in autism intervention efforts. Now the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders at Nationwide Children’s Hospital is also setting the standard for the care of brothers and sisters of children with autism.
It’s estimated that as many as one out of 150 individuals in the United States have an autism spectrum disorder, a complex developmental disability that affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. While much time and attention is focused on the child with autism, brothers and sisters of autistic children may have feelings that are difficult to express: sadness that an autistic sibling can’t learn things that others take for granted, anger and frustration over recurring behavioral problems or pride when a sibling with autism learns a basic but important life skill.
As a result, in 2007 Nationwide Children’s began offering a program called Sibshops™, designed to teach coping skills and provide support for siblings of children who are physically ill or have special needs. Unlike most Sibshops™ programs, Nationwide Children’s has tailored its program specifically for brothers and sisters of autism patients.
“The strains autism places on families are very real and can be extremely difficult,” said Jacquie Wynn, PhD, director of the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders at Nationwide Children’s and a member of the faculty at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. “By helping siblings cope with the effects of autism, we help heal and strengthen the entire family.”
Nationwide Children’s program is modeled from Sibshops™ curriculum provided by The Sibling Support Project™, the national effort dedicated to the lifelong concerns of brothers and sisters of people who have special health, developmental or mental health concerns. It uses games and activities to help kids explore feelings and share emotions and experiences. Participants also learn how to handle difficult or stressful situations, and they learn more about autism and their siblings’ special needs.
Nationwide Children’s Sibshops™ for Autism program is one of only a handful of such programs in the country and is one of several autism education efforts at Nationwide Children’s. Interactive parenting classes are also available to help caregivers manage the challenges of parenting a child with autism. Also, Nationwide Children’s Autism Academy provides general autism information, including intervention and medication options, funding sources, advocacy efforts and resources available within the community.