Author: Kate Strohm
"Siblings tells what it is like to grow up with a sister or brother who has a disability or chronic illness ... Besides giving siblings their own voice at last, Kate Strohm also provides strategies that siblings themselves, parents and practicioners can use to support brothers and sisters of children with special needs." Back Cover.
Brothers and sisters of children with special needs
Kate Strohm is an experienced journalist and health professional, who knows first hand the mixed feelings and emotions that often surround children who have a brother or sister with a disability.
In chapter one, Kate begins by telling her story of "A Shared Childhood". This is a very honest and personal account of her own experiences growing up with a sister who had cerebral palsy.
As a child she had a recurrent dream that she was sitting on a small concrete slab in the middle of a rough ocean - with no room to move. Her love for her sister was balanced against her feelings of confusion, fear and isolation. Kate talks openly about her distress when they were out and people would stop and stare at the family, her constant striving to be "good" and to "make things right" for her parents, her need to achieve then guilt that she could do things her sister could not.
As a teenager this developed into insomnia and a lack of self confidence. Later the panic attacks and the anger she felt towards herself got worse. Eventually, in her forties she found a therapist who was able to help and met other people who had grown up in a similar situation.
Kate wrote this book to help raise awareness of sibling issues and to give siblings a voice. In the first part of the book other siblings also share their stories and "describe their struggles with resentment, guilt, grief, and isolation, their fears and also their joys". They discuss common experiences including:
- The need for understanding
- Fears and worries
- A different life
- Society's message
- The reaction of others
- Feelings turned inwards
- Getting a fair go - what about me?
- Ongoing grief
- Responsibility and caregiving
- Life choices into the future
Following these stories Kate provides several chapters on strategies to help siblings, parents and professionals address the issues raised in their own lives. As individuals, people will have different responses to being a sibling of someone with special needs. The practical exercises and suggestions allow people to use the information and ideas presented in their own way and time, choosing the steps that are meaningful to them.
Chapter 9 explorers how adult siblings can gain understanding, discover needs, learn to express feelings and gain support, both from within and outside the family. Chapter 10 offers strategies for parents to build stronger families and Chapter 11 includes specific strategies for supporting young siblings.
"The siblings of children with special needs are often the forgotten ones in families struggling to cope with the demands of having a child with a disability or chronic illness. With so much attention placed on the child with special needs, able siblings are often expected to cope and flourish with less parental attention, forcing them to manage alone with the bevy of emotions they experience growing up with a child with special needs. Wakefield Press Media Release
Until recently the psychological and emotional feelings experienced by siblings have not been well understood or documented. "Most stories have reflected a positive experience, because they are the easy stories to tell".
Children with disabilities have clearer and often more demanding needs, while the sibling's needs for support are usually harder to recognise. Kate's book highlights the importance of a support network for siblings as well as other members of the family. It builds on overseas research in this area conducted by academics and health professionals in the United States during the last few years.
Written by and for siblings - this book is both affirming and empowering. It is easy to read, and powerful in its message. By raising these issues and openly discussing her own experiences Kate has provided individuals, families and professionals with an understanding and resources to help siblings cope and come to terms with their feelings.
"Siblings is a book that should be read by anyone coming into contact with a family that includes a child with a disability, whether through their work or socially." Professor Graham Vimpani, University of Newcastle
About the author
Kate Strohm has had extensive experience in the health sector, as a hospital scientist, health educator, counsellor and journalist. In 1999 she established the Sibling Project at the Women's and Children's Hospital in Adelaide, South Australia. This book is the result of her journey towards greater understanding and acceptance. It took her a long time to build up the courage to write it, her motivation being that she hopes "the ideas in this book will help build links between siblings, between parents and siblings, and finally between practicioners and families."
Siblings can be purchased from local bookshops. For further information on this book email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (08) 8362 8800.
Other titles by Kate Strohm
- February 2005 Being the other one: Growing up with a brother or sister who has special needs
- December 2004 Siblings: Coming unstuck and putting back the pieces
- Sibling Project, Women's and Children's Hospital, Adelaide
- Radio National interview on Life Matters with Geraldine Doogue