Hi Supersibs!My name is Maureen Chesus, and I started Supersiblings in 2012. I am the oldest of four siblings, and my sisters Mary and Kelly and I have a brother named Connor who has autism.
In 2007 Mary emailed me an article from The New York Times about siblings of children with autism, and it completely changed the way I saw myself. The article, titled "Her Autistic Brothers" by Karen Olsson (read it here!) referred to children of siblings with autism as "supersiblings:"
In conversation, researchers will refer to “supersiblings” — children
who are especially sensitive and responsible as a result of growing
up with someone with a disability.
The article describes some of the ways that said "supersiblings" are affected by having a sibling with autism in both positive and negative ways. As I read the rest of the article I realized that this article was describing me.
What makes you a Supersibling?You might be a supersibling if you...
- have a desire to be perfect at everything you do
- are very protective of and loyal to others, especially your siblings
- go out of your way not to inconvenience others
- are more independent and mature than most people your age
- have a nurturing personality
- are used to hiding your feelings for the sake of others
- are very intuitive and are very aware of what others around you are feeling
- are extremely empathetic, sometimes to your detriment
- tend to be very patient and tolerant of others
- can easily step into a leadership position
Is this starting to sound familiar? :)
This is NOT to say that we don't face a lot of challenges that others don't have to face-- we deal with denial of feelings, lack of attention from parents, lack of praise and positive reinforcement, jealousy, embarrassment, feeling alone, being suuuuper frustrated, being extra sensitive to many things, not having a "normal" family life or a "normal" growing up experience, etc, etc, etc!
Why I made Supersib.com
We Supersibs do not have the kind of support, resources, or acknowledgement that we deserve.
We are overlooked.
We are also awesome, extremely valuable people that have many special gifts and traits that others do not.
I am here to EMPOWER you use those gifts to become as successful as possible in whatever way that means to you. You deserve to spread your awesome-ness to the rest of the world!
My younger brother Connor was diagnosed with autism in 1995 when I was nine years old. Many things changed for my family after that, including for me and my two sisters.
We stopped going out as a family as much as we used to because it was too difficult for Connor to go out of his regular routine. Sibling resentment became common among me and my sisters and Connor because he would "get off easy" when we didn't-- not having to go somewhere if he didn't want to, or not having to eat certain things, for example. I became embarrassed about having friends over; I didn't know how to explain my brother to them and didn't think they would understand. Early on when I would have a friend over and Connor threw a tantrum, he would become violent and I would have to hide my friend in my room. I started resenting my peers because they "had it easy" at home and didn't have to deal with the things that I did, which led to me feeling alienated.
Our family dynamic changed drastically. My parents had to spend most of their time helping Connor, so I started missing out on things like getting homework help, getting advice for problems with friends, etc. I had to learn how to grow up from magazines-- how to put on makeup, how to have a boyfriend, how to apply to college. Since I was the oldest, I often took on the parental role for my two neurotypical sisters. Anytime my parents would get frustrated about something with Connor it would get directed at me. I felt like any and all negative feelings at home were my fault and that I was the problem. That feeling, that everything was always my fault, carried into my young adulthood. When I moved away to college, my new friends always joked about how I was constantly apologizing for everything.
For many years I had no idea how to deal with my feelings and had no one to talk to about them. Not to mention I lacked the vocabulary to express what was going on inside of me and how our family dynamic made me feel. I was depressed, alone, anxious, and extremely sensitive. I spent so many nights crying underneath my pillow so that no one would hear me and I wouldn't bother anyone.
Now, as a young adult, Connor is doing great. He's taking a few classes at the community college nearby and volunteering at the Natural History Museum and Long Marine Lab in Santa Cruz. He's currently working with his aide to look for a mentor in the Marine Biology department at UCSC.
As for me, I am in a much healthier place with my family situation and my relationship to autism. After moving away from home, I created a life for myself in which autism was a part of my life, but not my whole life. I learned how to cope with the negative aspects and how to appreciate the positive ones. I went to therapy and learned how to be more introspective and to see the situation with new eyes. I was able to see the ways in which being a Supersibling had shaped me, for better or for worse. I can now own the fact that I am my own safety net and feel strong instead of vulnerable. I have several jobs that I enjoy, I'm an actor and a singer, I run a play reading group, am an active foodie, and have a whole life set up for myself out here in Los Angeles for which I have autism and my Supersibling-ness to thank.