Growing up the typical sibling to a child with Special Needs is anything but typical.
These kids live with their sibling's diagnosis day in and day out. They tag along to countless doctor appointments and therapy sessions. Family time and money can be tight for their own extracurricular interests. They worry about their sibling's safety, quality of life and eventually their long-term care. They endure stares and darting eyes of curious strangers and hurtful remarks of peers who don't understand. While each sibling's experience is different—some good, some less so—none can truly be called typical.
There is, however, a place they can go to feel a little more understood. It's called Sibshops. Developed by the Sibling Support Project, Sibshops is designed specifically for school-age brothers and sisters of kids with special needs. Its curriculum is used around the world. Locally Easter Seals Crossroads, Noble of Indiana and Damar Services make up the Central Indiana Sibshop Network and take turns hosting the program once per quarter. Northview Church in Carmel also hosts Sibshops throughout the year, including one on Feb. 17, 2 - 5 p.m."It's a great opportunity for children with siblings who have special needs to be around other kids like them. Sibs often think they are the only kid in the world with a brother or sister with autism or Cerebral palsy until they are around kids like them who have the same kind of emotions or struggles of being a brother or sister and not getting time to themselves. It's cool to figure out they are not the only kid in the world with a sibling who has special needs," said Katy Messuri, behavioral counselor with Easter Seals Crossroads.
Andrea Vrobel, a Sibshops facilitator with Easter Seals Crossroads, believes the majority of activities in these families' households revolve around the child with special needs. "It's important for these kids to have a day celebrating them. A day for them and about them. They can share their feelings or not. It's not a therapy group, it's a peer support group," said Vrobel.
The program itself is a good mix of low- and high-energy activities for the kids. They do crafts, participate in lively recreational activities, and get involved in lighthearted discussions that aren't overtly therapeutic yet allow kids to share their perspective on being the typical sibling in their family.
"When kids come they have a great time. They get to laugh together without feeling they are being laughed at. They all have stories of being embarrassed by the sib...There's a strength in empathy. When another person understands you, you have a closer bond with them and you don't feel alone," said Molly Lang, autism coordinator with Noble of Indiana.
Parents are even invited to eat lunch with the child so they can enjoy a little one-on-one time together in a fun setting. "It's all about the kid. The kids get to participate in fun games that keep them busy the entire day, from crafts to balloons. We do a little bit of therapeutic processing, but not to the point where kids catch on because we want them to find camaraderie with others and see they are not alone," Lang said.
Noble of Indiana and Damar currently offer Sibshops for ages 8 - 13. Easter Seals offers the program for ages 4 - 7 and 8 - 13 and hosts Sibshops during the organization's Parents Day Out program for kids with special needs. Likewise Northview Church hosts its Sibshops at the same time as its Afternoon Away program for kids with special needs. In both instances, parents have purposeful and simultaneous care for all their kids and can get a little time to themselves.