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by Kate Strohm
Shambhala, 2005
Review by Leo Uzych, J.D., M.P.H. on Sep 19th 2006

Being the Other One

   Being the Other One illumines the world inhabited by siblings of children with "special needs" relating, particularly, to intellectual and physical disabilities.  The author, Kate Strohm, is a counselor, journalist, and health educator, as well as the Director of a program (Siblings Australia), intended, broadly, to provide support for siblings of special needs children.  Strohm's focus is to raise awareness of vexing challenges commonly confronting the siblings of children with special needs, and to helpfully delineate strategies designed, effectually, to enable such siblings to become stronger.  Towards that end, Strohm unleashes a torrent of shafts, empowered, with keenly penetrating force, by Strohm's own life experiences, as the sibling of a special needs sister.  These arrows help clothe the discourse, of Strohm, in a garment of insightfulness and informativeness, and will likely implant, in readers' minds, a heightened measure of awareness, of some of the special concerns often affecting the siblings of disabled children.

   Throughout the book, Strohm expounds, forcibly, the unrelenting mantra that, if a sibling grows up with a brother or sister with special needs, this will importantly shape the mold of the sibling's life.  The shape of the mold, as crafted by Strohm, shows significant adverse effects on siblings, which may persist, stubbornly, into adulthood.  Laudably, Strohm admirably succeeds in drawing attention to the vital need to provide more, and better, support, to siblings of special needs children.  And her enthralling book, fastened securely to the travails of real life, is, indubitably, an invaluable contribution to the literature, fitting, snugly, into the particularized niche of special needs children and associated sibling issues.

   The first two chapters of the book focus, sharply, on Strohm's personal story, of being a sibling of an older sister afflicted with cerebral palsy.  In careful, very frank detail, Strohm describes the unremitting familial stress, frustration, anxiety, embarrassment, confusion, sorrow, and guilt that permeated her childhood.  As recounted by Strohm, it wasn't until she was in her forties that, with the help of a therapist, she was able to sort out some of her feelings towards her disabled sister, and travel down a path leading to a greater sense of understanding and self acceptance.

   The anecdotal stories, of other siblings of special needs children, are the mainstay of chapters three to eight.  Pithy doses of anecdotal comments, drawn from various siblings, are interestingly, and instructively, injected into the bodies of these various chapters.  Strohm, exhibiting the adept erudition of a skilled artisan, analytically, and insightfully, weaves together the assorted anecdotal fragments; and, from time to time, intersperses comments, of a germane nature, concerning her own life.  The finely honed writing saber, of Strohm, cuts deeply, and revealingly, into the flesh of myriad issues, relevant to siblings of special needs children.

   Akin to Strohm's personal experiences, the stories of other siblings, of disabled children, likewise reveal:  confusion, worries, fear, panic, guilt, stress, anguish, resentment, and frustration.  Many of these other siblings, based on their brief comments, appeared to be inundated by a veritable cascade of powerfully flowing negative feelings and emotions, tied directly, or at least indirectly, to the presence of a disabled child in the family.  The negative feelings, moreover, may have kindled sparks contributing to behavioral and emotional rooted problems, extending into adulthood, including:  eating disorders, depression, low self esteem, and lingering anger, fear, anxiety, and guilt.  Strohm also broaches the grief which may be suffered by the parents, of a disabled child.

   The crux of the last four chapters, of the book, is to elaborate variant strategies, pertinent to counteracting the panoply of negative effects, associated, at least indirectly, with having a disabled family member.  Again, a structurally prominent feature, of these chapters, is the grafting, of snippets of anecdotal comments, culled from various persons, into the textual flesh, of the respective chapters.  These comments are woven together adroitly by Strohm.

   Chapter nine focuses on devising efficacious strategies, particularly targeting the assisting of adult siblings, of special needs children.  Helping parents, of special needs children, become stronger is the over arching aim, of chapter ten.  In chapter eleven, Strohm is especially absorbed with providing wise counsel regarding how parents can help their children become stronger.  "Service providers", meaning:  organizations and persons that a family with a disabled member may have professional contact with, are the cynosure of the concluding chapter.  An important goal, of concluding chapter twelve, is to elucidate, in plainly honest terms, what parents can expect, realistically, from service providers.  There is, further, an effort made to plant seeds, of ideas, which may grow, possibly, into improvements in the service system.

   The anecdotal centric structural mechanism utilized, by Strohm, tilts the book away, steeply, from the academically entrenched, who may covet the rigors and formalities imposed, customarily, by academic research.  Strohm portrays an image, of a sibling of a disabled person, resembling, metaphorically, an oarless boatperson, frustratingly, and probably unhappily, tossing hither and thither, and making, perhaps, incremental headway, on a raging sea of tempestuous negativity.  But an academic cynic may question whether the experiences recounted, in an anecdotally fragmented way, by the relatively small sample size of siblings, are truly representative of the overall cohort, of siblings of special needs children, or whether the experiences described in the book are actually unrepresentatively aberrant.  In another vein, the counsel, of Strohm, certainly should not be misused as a surrogate for the expert professional assistance of capable providers.

   The book's sparkling contents should particularly engross siblings, and other family members, of special needs children, with intellectual flames of edification, and further engross the close attention of providers attached, professionally, to helping persons with special needs, enveloping:  psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, speech therapists, genetic counselors, nurses, physiotherapists, pediatricians, and occupational therapists.

 

© 2006 Leo Uzych

 

Leo Uzych (based in Wallingford, PA)  earned a law degree, from Temple University; and a master of public health degree, from Columbia University.  His area of special professional interest is healthcare.