Growing up with an autistic brother, Sandra Tucker felt she needed to protect him from those who didn’t understand him. The topic of special needs was awkward for those on the outside, and Sandra felt she had to keep her hopes and fears quiet. It just wasn’t something she could talk about with others outside her family. She also had to contend with her brother’s nearly daily outbursts. Rather than live silent and angry, Sandra created Sibling Tree, a support group for caretakers who have a brother or sister with a special need.
Sibling Tree provides resources, safe places to talk and be understood, and activities just for the siblings of children with special needs. These brothers and sisters understand that more attention has to be given to their siblings and they help protect them. Sibling Tree is just a place for siblings to meet with other siblings to laugh and share. Currently, Sandra holds support group sessions for children in Denver and Boulder, CO.
There are numerous organizations to help children and people with special needs. Their siblings, however, are often the “forgotten” children. Inspired by an activity Sandra started when she was a teen, Sibling Tree participants create two journals: one for themselves, and one to share with their parents to help them voice their feelings and open up a line of communication. Years ago, Sandra started keeping a journal for herself, a paper-bound catharsis to vent all her feelings about being a caretaker for her autistic brother. She felt anger and worry and fear and loneliness. But there were also moments of joy and things she could laugh about. She made another journal that she shared with her mom. It was a composed way to check in with her mom, see how she was doing and thank her for being so strong.
Sandra has brokered many partnerships with groups in Colorado that work on autism issues, giving voice to siblings of autistic people. The organization began in 2013 and has grown to a presence in two cities. Sibling Tree now has 8 volunteers serving 85 children and adults, and the group has opened more lines of support to include siblings of people with Down Syndrome, Fragile-X and other developmental disabilities. Sandra is now getting involved in efforts to reshape policymaking and legislation related to autism and caregiving. Sandra’s efforts on the issue of caregiving support garnered national attention in 2014 when she was named a semi-finalist in the annual L’Oreal of Paris Women of Worth program.
“I know what I’m going through,” Sandra explains, “and I know I can make a difference.”
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