Siblings Coping With Autism

May 31, 2006 — -- One aspect of autism that rarely gets talked about is the brothers and sisters of autistic children whose lives are also profoundly affected by the disorder.

"There is no one I know who is more vulnerable to me than my brother," said writer Judy Karasik.

She's lived with autism since her childhood, as her 57-year-old brother has the disorder. They've written an illustrated book, "The Ride Together: A Brother and Sister's Memoir of Autism in the Family," about their childhood, and the story is not always sweet.

"He had bigger needs than the rest of us," said Karasik. "And you can say it made me a better person, but you don't always want to be a better person, and that's the truth."

It's also the truth that your childhood is turned on end when your sibling is autistic, as parents become absorbed in the life of that child whose needs can put severe limits on family activities.

"In my work, I find myself in this frequently ludicrous position of having to remind people who claim to be really interested in families, having to remind them that brothers and sisters are part of the family," said Don Meyer, who is based in Seattle but runs sibling workshops all over the country.

His "Sib Shops" give the brothers and sisters of the autistic the chance to share their experiences and learn they are not alone.

At one such workshop in Wisconsin, kids spoke of the embarrassment they occasionally experience in public when other people notice their autistic siblings.

They also live with the fear that their brother or sister will get hurt, or end up lost if they fail to keep watch, which is a lot for a child to bear.