Program reaches siblings of autistic kids

April 14, 2008 1:25:14 PM PDT
1 out of every 150 kids in America have some form of autism. But, the developmental disorder doesn't just affect the children with it. Now there's a new program that could become a model for helping siblings, too.

10-year-old Emily Carder doesn't get too many quiet times with her 6-year-old sister Anna.

Anna has autism, and all too often, interactions with Emily turn contentious or aggressive.

To help improve her social skills, Anna is often in classes, or with therapists.

Angie Carder, the girls' mother, says Anna is struggling to control her impulse, "If she has downtime, she's doing something inappropriate. The whole idea with kids with autism, with having the intensive therapy many hours a week, is changing the behavior."

But changing behavior can take a lot of time, money, AND attention - leaving less for siblings like Emily.

All too often, the siblings become secluded, or even depressed.

But an innovative program at Nationwide Children's Hospital focuses on those siblings.

Inside the workshop, you hear a counselor chatting with a child. "How does that make you feel when it does happen?"

Jacquie Wynn, Ph.D., director of the program, says, "These kids are not spending every day talking about these issues and a lot of time, they haven't even spent a lot of time thinking about the issues, but it is hitting them every day."

The program is different than most, allowing the siblings to develop long-term relationships with others facing the same issues.

Together, they learn how to adjust.

Dr. Wynn says, "It is fun, and active, but it also allows for honest, open discussions about the issues of having a sibling with autism."

Emily says she now focuses less on what frustrates her about her sister, and more on the things she loves about her.

She says, "She's really improving. She's giving lots of kisses and hugs. I think my sister is the best autistic kid there could ever be."