In October my younger son started Sib Nights at Friendship Circle. He was extremely shy at first – so nervous that he couldn’t even speak. Within a few minutes, he looked around the room and realized he belonged there. Everyone else in the group had a brother or sister with a disability, just like him. Everyone else understood. He relaxed and began smiling. When my son came back to me one hour later he said, “It was so much fun! We should have sib shop every day!”
I often think that siblings of children with special needs are the most powerful agents for social change: they’re creative and compassionate, and they don’t give up. This impression was strengthened when I learned about Shout Out, a new online magazine for children who have a brother or sister with autism.
Shout Out is faithfully edited and posted every month by Gracie, whose older brother has Asperger Syndrome. Gracie’s mother, Sharon Fuentes, helps to edit and promote the magazine. I interviewed Gracie this week, because I think her perspective is valuable to everyone who works with, plays with or lives with families of kids with special needs.
Karen: How old are you? How old is your brother?
Gracie: I am 9 and my brother Jay is 11.
Karen: Describe a perfect day for you.
Gracie: My perfect day would be meeting Justin Bieber or the group One Direction or better yet BOTH. Then go on a shopping spree to cool clothes stores (with the guys too… hey it is a dream perfect day right) and then go to Disney World with my family.
Karen: Why did you decide to start Shout Out magazine?
Gracie: I was feeling really alone and like no one else got it. My mom told me I had two choices: I could feel sorry for myself or I could take action and try to reach out to other kids like me. That is when I came up with the idea for the magazine.
Karen: Who are you trying to reach by publishing Shout Out?
Gracie: Siblings, like me, of kids with autism. I want them to know that they are not alone and that is okay to feel angry or sad sometimes, but really the magazine is all about the positive stuff.
Karen: Did you have previous writing or editing experience?
Gracie: Not really! But I have always loved writing stories. My mom has even put some on her blog.
Karen: What’s your favorite part of the writing and editing experience?
Gracie: Spending time with my mom! I pretend like my desk is my office and we are working on a newspaper or something. It feels cool, like a sneak preview, to see the articles one way and then how they end up in the magazine.
Karen: What has been your favorite Shout Out article so far? Why is it your favorite?
Gracie: My favorite articles are the Through My Eyes ones that my brother Jay writes. I really liked his last one on how making friends is hard for him. I liked it because it helped me understand how he sees things without me going and asking him, because that could be kind of awkward for both of us.
Karen: Has Shout Out changed your relationship with your brother? If so, how?
Gracie: Shout Out has changed our relationship. I feel like I understand him more. The magazine also makes me feel like I am not alone which makes me a lot less angry towards Jay. I guess in many ways I always felt like he got more attention than me, now I am starting to understand why.
Karen: What would you like to tell other siblings of children with special needs?
Gracie: First off, I would tell others siblings to remember that you are not alone! It’s okay to feel whatever you are feeling, but try to embrace the good things about your sibling and really try and connect with your brother or sister. And most importantly… remember to love them for WHO THEY ARE because no one is perfect!
Karen: What are your plans for the future?
Gracie: I would love to study fashion in college, become a successful clothes designer and have my own boutique one day! Thanks so much for this interview and allowing me to talk more about how I feel, about the magazine and my relationship with my big brother!