Tell us about yourself and siblings.
I am the sibling with the disability, a mild form of Cerebral Palsy. Because of an injury during birth from the use of forceps, I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. I experienced delays in meeting various developmental milestones, including not walking until I was five years old (even then not very well), not being able to communicate well with others or to be clearly understood, and not being able to utilize fine motor skills until later in life. I had to struggle throughout my school years to get the best education I could. However, I was profoundly influenced by the skills and the encouragement of my father, who was a developmental disabilities and rehabilitation counselor, my mother who was a secondary school teacher, and my brother, who is six years older than I am. Currently, I am a doctoral student in the Family Therapy Program at TWU in Denton, Texas. I received my B.A. from Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, Arkansas and received a M.S. from the University of Tennessee, Memphis. Upon moving to Texas, I served as Access Housing Specialist for two years with AmeriCorps VISTA/Easter Seals North Texas and as the Board President of the Arc of Denton County. I am presently TWU liaison to the Arc of Denton County. I am the SLN Board Chair for 2016; I currently sit on the board of the Arc of Texas and on a subcommittee of the Arc of the United States. My primary research interest and the focus of my future practice lie with the behavioral/psychological characteristics of siblings of children with disabilities and the perceptions of parents/children regarding sibling relationships.
When is the first time you got involved in sibling support and advocacy?
I first became involved formally with sibling support and advocacy when I joined the Arc of Denton County. After seeing a need for mutual support for children and adolescents who have siblings with disabilities, the Arc began a support group for those siblings. The goals of the support group were to provide brothers and sisters of children with disabilities an opportunity to meet other siblings in a relaxed, recreational setting; to discuss common joys and concerns with other siblings of children with special needs; and to learn how others handle situations commonly experienced by siblings of children with disabilities. We provided siblings with an opportunity to learn more about the implications of their brothers and sisters’ needs (some who are physically disabled; some have physical/cognitive disabilities; some are on the autism disorder spectrum). We provided parents and other professions with opportunities to learn more about the concerns and opportunities frequently experienced by brothers and sisters of people with special needs. We noticed clear positive outcomes for siblings who participated. These outcomes included increased sibling knowledge about disability/illness, decreased negative adjustment, improved sibling connectedness and sibling relationships, and improvements in self-concept and self-esteem.
What made you want to get involved in the SLN?
As a member of the Arc of the United States, I became aware of the Sibling Leadership Network and contacted Katie Arnold to see how I could participate in the organization. I feel privileged to be associated with all of these individuals who are so dedicated to supporting and advocating for their siblings and for all siblings who have disabilities.
What role do you play on the SLN board?
I was elected as Vice Chair in 2015 and am currently the 2016 Board Chair. I am committed to continuing the work of the SLN in line with the mission, purpose, and values that were established by the founders with the intent of supporting sibling relationships among families with siblings with disabilities. I am also working to coordinate the newly formed Board Development Work Group, which will shape the future of the board and SLN as a whole.
What do you want SLN members to know about the SLN and the board?
Persons with disabilities require more adaptability to their environments than do others; and the severity of the disability dictates the extent of the adaptability, both physically and emotionally. How one chooses to deal with that is in part a reflection of what was learned through the struggles within the family of origin. That is why sibling relationships are so important. Disability is just a word; it is not who you are. Being different is what makes us human. Accepting differences or challenges is what makes us grow as individuals and ensures a multi-verse view of society. That will happen only by working together, no matter how different we are.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Finally, I would heartily invite anyone who is interested in being an advocate for our diverse brothers and sisters to volunteer and to help us make a difference in the lives of people with disabilities. Let’s all reaffirm our commitment and support to the values of the SLN and make 2016 an even better year!