Testimony Submitted to Administration on Developmental Disabilities – Don Meyer

Below is the online testimony I gave to the Administration on Developmental Disabilities. I think YOU should add your testimony too. Why? With looming budget cuts, services for adults with disabilities have never been threatened as they are now. And when these supports go, it could have a HUGE impact on the lives of adult sibs and their families. Sibs MUST advocate for their own issues and the concerns of their sibs who have disabilities—or other people will make decisions that will affect their lives.

Testifying online is not difficult. Simply go to Envision 2010. Although my testimony is somewhat long, yours does not be long at all. But they need to hear from as many of us as possible before the deadline of Friday, February 25th. After you send your testimony to ADD, please consider posting it to the list. Doing so will help keep the idea alive and encourage others to do so.



February 14, 2011

Dear colleagues,

I am submitting my testimony as the director of the Sibling Support Project, a national program dedicated to the concerns of brothers and sisters of people with special health, developmental, and mental health concerns. It has been a privilege to serve the United States’ brothers and sisters since 1990. I am also the brother of two siblings who have seizure disorders and a member of the Sibling Leadership Network.

In the United States over six million people have disabilities. Most of these people have typically developing brothers and sisters. These brothers and sisters are too important to ignore, if for only this reason:

Siblings will be in the lives of family members with disabilities longer than anyone. Brothers and sisters will be there after parents are gone and special education services are a distant memory. Theirs is a relationship that can easily exceed 65 years. When provided with support and information, these brothers and sisters can help their siblings with disabilities live dignified lives from childhood to their senior years.

Siblings of people with disabilities share most of the concerns that their parents experience, including isolation, a need for information, guilt, concerns about the future, and caregiving demands. Brothers and sisters also face issues that are uniquely theirs, including resentment, peer concerns, embarrassment, and pressure to achieve. Yet, compared to what is available for parents, services and supports for siblings are almost non-existent.

Today’s siblings assume a larger role in the lives of people with disabilities than in previous generations. This is due to at least three converging social phenomena:

  • First, because of advanced medical technologies, people with disabilities now routinely outlive their parents.
  • Second, current social policies encourage people with disabilities to live and work in the community. While these are desirable policies, it means that adult siblings assume the in loco parentus roles previously played by the state.
  • Third, these changes occur at a time when many states—facing diminishing dollars for social services—find housing and employment options for people with disabilities scarce. Currently, more than 75% of adults with intellectual disabilities remain at home after high school.

Consequently, siblings of the baby boom and post-baby boom generations are called upon to be more involved in the lives of their brothers and sisters with disabilities. More than anyone, they will be the most important source of information regarding their vulnerable brothers and sisters. “The types of support that these relatives–primarily adult siblings–will need once they assume caregiving responsibility may well be different than those of aging parents, and will be a growing concern for the service delivery system.”[1]

Services and supports specifically for brothers and sisters have a long-lasting impact on families and the lives of people with disabilities. Seventy-five percent of the adult siblings who attended Sibshops, a peer support and education program for siblings as children, reported that the program affected their adult lives and the adult relationships they have with their siblings with intellectual disabilities. These programs “serve as protective factors for siblings of individuals with disabilities, a population who is frequently considered at-risk” and the “positive results last into adulthood.” The study concluded, “The positive effects are not only apparent, but enduring.”[2]

Providing siblings with services and supports is a low-cost, high impact means of improving the lives of people with disabilities because supported, informed siblings are more likely to remain lovingly involved in their lives as adults—and when their parents no longer can. But others benefit from these efforts as well:

  1. Typically-developing siblings are reassured when they have the skills and know-how to advocate for their brothers and sisters;
  2. Parents enter their senior years knowing that their children with disabilities will be cared for when they no longer can;
  3. Service providers serving adults with disabilities benefit from having siblings as active partners–and siblings are an especially important source of information about their brothers and sisters; and
  4. Taxpayers benefit because adult siblings who are involved in the lives of their siblings with special needs will reduce the need for costly social services.

Because they make life-long contributions to the lives of their brothers and sisters who have disabilities, siblings of all ages benefit from simple, but critical considerations.

Siblings need information about:

  1. Their sibling’s disability and its implications
  2. Treatments and services for their brothers and sisters
  3. Plans their parents have for their sibling’s future
  4. The genetic implications of their sibling’s disability
  5. How to effectively advocate for their brother or sister
  6. Services for adults with disabilities

Siblings need opportunities to:

  1. Meet their peers
  2. Discuss common joys and concerns with other siblings
  3. Learn how other siblings address problematic situations frequently faced by brothers and sisters
  4. Discuss their current and future roles in the life of their sibling who has a disability.

Siblings need parents who:

  1. Understand siblings’ life-long and ever-changing concerns
  2. Learn proven strategies to minimize siblings’ concerns and maximize their opportunities
  3. Provide their typically developing children with information and opportunities to meet their peers
  4. Plan for the future of their child with an intellectual disability, and involve their typically-developing children in this planning
  5. Value the right to self determination for each of their children

Siblings need service providers and policymakers who:

  1. Understand siblings’ life-long and ever-changing concerns
  2. Proactively provide brothers and sisters with information
  3. Create programs specifically for siblings
  4. Make systemic changes to include brothers and sisters in their working definition of “family.”

As a sister in her sixties succinctly put it: “In the United States, there are millions of brothers and sisters of people with disabilities. We will likely become caregivers for our siblings when our parents die. Anyone who is interested in the welfare of persons with disabilities ought to be interested in us.” Thank you, in advance, for your attention to the concerns of this most deserving family member.


Don Meyer

Director, Sibling Support Project

6512 23rd Ave NW

Seattle, WA 98117




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