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New Collaboration with the Autism Science Foundation Offers Support and Camaraderie to Siblings

In April, Els for Autism Foundation began offering a virtual support group called “Sibs Stick Together” a group for siblings of individuals with autism. The Foundation had initially planned to hold the group in-person; however, as concerns about COVID-19 spread, the support group shifted online.

By this time, many siblings had been at home with their siblings with special needs for weeks.  The program team quickly realized how now, more than ever, siblings needed support and a safe space to share feelings.

“We are learning that when we provide support to the family, including siblings, we end up bettering the lives of the population we originally intended to serve,” Kimberly Rivieccio, Mental Health Counselor at Els for Autism said.

The virtual group allowed participants to log in from anywhere in the world to receive counseling, learn new coping skills, and connect with others.

In June, the Autism Science Foundation and the Els for Autism Foundation collaborated to create a series of four webinars, “Sam’s Sibs Stick Together,” with Samantha “Sam” Els, the daughter of founders Ernie and Liezl Els, serving as the ambassador and panel moderator.

“Sam’s Sibs Stick Together project is game-changing,” Erin Brooker Lozott, Clinical Director & Global Support at Els for Autism Foundation, said. “It is an initiative based on the philosophy that support generates ability.”

A spin-off of the “Sibs Stick Together,” support group, the goal of the series is to further research involving siblings and provide them with a support mechanism and means for connection.

“Siblings of individuals with autism spectrum disorder often take on a behind the scenes role in their family, though they frequently have just as great a need for support as does their brother or sister,” Erin said. “Focusing on siblings and their mental health moves their position from behind the scenes to center stage, assuring they can continue to provide invaluable support and insight to their families while also receiving care for themselves. Mental health and wellness are essential components in leading a happy, productive, and healthy life.”

The webinar series began with Alycia Halladay, Chief Science Officer of Autism Science Foundation, presenting research findings that focused on siblings and discussed resources available for siblings of all ages.

The panelists shared how their families helped support their relationships with their siblings, what they wish they could tell their younger selves, and factors that improve resiliency. Sam Els openly shared anecdotes about her experiences and relationship with her brother, Ben Els, who is on the autism spectrum.  The panelists quickly bonded over their experiences.

“I love seeing the instant connection these siblings have at various ages,” Kimberly said. “Many of them will enter helping professions.”

The webinar series will wrap up with a final webinar on August 14, 2020 at 2 p.m. EST.

Stay tuned for future programs focused on supporting siblings.