Proof Positive is excited to introduce Avery Bell, one of our amazing team members, as a contributing author to our blog — her post is a must read on National Siblings Day!

Sibling relationships are special. Often, siblings are family members closest to us in age and our longest life relationships. They can be a source of our fondest memories, such as creating mischief together or consistently having a friend to lean on. Being a sibling is not always easy, and can be especially complex for those of us who have a sibling with disabilities. 

Having an autistic sibling may pose unique challenges, from communication difficulties to increased stress and anxiety. Neurotypical siblings may feel an increased sense of responsibility at home, the pressure of assuming the role of caretaker, or a sense of loss. Sometimes it is hard to feel seen, when someone else needs so much attention and care. In my case, having an older brother with autism meant growing up a little faster than a typical kid does. And yet, having an autistic sibling can also help an individual become more compassionate, patient, or resilient. 

Today we celebrate National Siblings Day. Thinking about and savoring the good things that come from sibling relationships, expressing gratitude for our siblings, and celebrating each of our strengths can build resilience and enhance wellbeing. Addressing the wellbeing needs of siblings improves outcomes for everyone, including siblings with autism.

My older brother, Tyler, was diagnosed with autism when he was three, years before I was born. From the very beginning of my life experiences, I’ve witnessed and shared many joyful moments with him, as well as harder situations. As humans, it’s easy for us to get sucked into the negativity bias, where we focus on all the things going wrong. When it comes to Tyler and all of his behavioral and medical complications of autism, it is easy to get sucked into this negativity spiral. I know, I’ve felt this.

Learning about positive psychology helped me realize how often I forget to celebrate the little wins. How when I focus on our strengths, I can more mindfully find moments for shared joy. Working at Proof Positive has reminded me to be more intentional with my time with my siblings, especially Tyler: to find more moments to listen and dance to his favorite songs (always including some Disney and “This Love” by Maroon 5), to consciously celebrate his strength of Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence when he paints another beautiful work of art exactly as he wants it, and to reflect on what went well during our shared moments. Just as important, I feel better equipped with tools and resources for when the harder times hit, fostering resilience. Practicing skills like Jolts of Joy, Character Strength awareness, and What Went Well enhance wellbeing for both of us.

Groups like Sam’s Sibs Stick Together, created by Samantha Els during COVID-19, are also a great way to support sibling wellbeing. Sam’s Sibs offers extra support for autism siblings of all ages through regular webinars, accessible research findings, and other resources specific to autism siblings. I’ve found Sam’s Sibs to be a great place to gather and virtually connect with other autism siblings, share experiences, and learn from each other. In a webinar with Sam Sibs, “Positive Psychology and Sibling Relationships,” I shared some of the science and skills of positive psychology that have helped me build resilience, experience joy, and strengthen my own sibling relationships. Be sure to watch the webinar recording! 

I’m proud to work for an organization that promotes evidence-informed wellbeing skills that can help build strength and resilience in people with autism, and in our sibling relationships. Practicing wellbeing skills can increase positive emotions, enhance work satisfaction, and strengthen relationships of all sorts, including sibling relationships. You can learn more about the skills and resources available to learn, practice, teach and spread wellbeing. And be sure to follow us as we continue to share more skills to improve your wellbeing! 

Relationships are fundamental to our wellbeing. Connections to others can give us purpose and meaning, boost our positive emotions, and support us during hard times. For me, there is nothing better than the grin and a fist bump from Tyler… to remind me of the little joys in life. 

In highlighting the strengths and resilience in autism sibling relationships, wellbeing wins for all.

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