Whether you are setting up a sibling group for the first time or have been running groups for many years, this section will give you guidelines and activities to help you run your group
Definition of ASD trees
ASD can be a difficult condition for adults to explain and siblings understand. This activity helps siblings to develop a framework of how ASD/autism/Asperger's syndrome affects their brother or sister. The format is easy to remember and the trees can be brought out in other sessions e.g. when developing coping strategies.
This activity generates a lot discussion; this is sometimes the first time that siblings have been able to talk in detail about what makes their brother or sister different.
You will need
Four large paper shapes of trees (drawn on flip chart paper or long piece of wallpaper)
Paper leaf shapes
How to do it
Briefly explain to siblings that their brothers and sisters have difficulties that are categorised under four headings:
People with ASD have difficulties learning and do not understand and pick up things as easily as others. Problems with language include understanding what people say to each other, the meanings people put into their voices, expressions on faces, and movements with their bodies. Some children have no verbal communication skills and use pictures or signing to communicate.
2. Social skills
This includes getting on with people, taking turns, making friends, maintaining eye contact, and empathy. Problems in these area may lead to children with ASD becoming frustrated and developing behavioural traits which upset others but they will not realise.
3. Imagination and rigid thinking
Children with ASD often have a rigid way in which they think or do things. They may like patterns and routines and become upset if this is broken. They have little imagination and may enjoy obsessional activities.
Children with ASD may have difficulties understanding their senses. Some children are sensitive to particular noises or voice tones, they may not like the feel of certain fabrics, and they may only eat certain foods of a particular colour.
Write those headings on the trunk of each tree.
Then ask the siblings to write on the leaf shapes their ideas of how their brother's or sister's condition affects them. e.g. "They watch Thomas the Tank Engine videos constantly"
Collect the leaves then ask siblings to take it in turns picking one out and reading it aloud. That sibling then has the chance to choose the tree the statement applies to. E.g. In the video example above, the leaf is stuck onto the 'Imagination and rigid thinking' tree. The group should then agree on the correct tree. Some of the leaves may overlap more than one tree, depending on the comment on the leaf e.g. "Shouts out in public". This could go on both the 'Social skills' and 'Language' trees.
The following examples could be given to the staff involved in the group to use as a guide throughout this activity.
Language examples may include:
May not have verbal communication, may use PECS, Signs, Communication tools, repeats themselves, copies what is said to them, stands too close, keeps talking when the other person has stopped listening, cannot read your expressions, has a monotone voice, may have a very different accent if he learned to talk by watching TV, takes your hand and lead you there if wants something, if upset may not be able to express it and thus has challenging behaviour.
Social examples may include:
Is in a world of their own, is a loner, struggles to make friends, hates turn taking, poor eye contact, lack of empathy, may seem selfish, takes your things, talks about their own interests, stands too close, won't be hugged or touched unless they choose to, hates big crowds, hits people, hums, makes noises, makes a mess
Rigid thinking examples may include:
Same routine, little imagination, likes patterns, doesn't like being interrupted when doing a task, needs to be prepared for change, flaps, jumps, spins, twiddles, spins objects, switches on lights, cannot take part in imaginary games, stories are related to their own lives, repeats your words back to you, calls themselves 'You' instead of 'I'
Sensory examples may include:
Will only eat brown food, will not wear shoes, does not like the sound of traffic, takes off their clothes, puts hands over ears to block out certain sounds, sensitive to certain smells, does not like to hold hands, will only have a hug when they approach you