The bond between siblings is unlike that of any other. One minute you’ll be the best of friends, and the next minute you can’t stand each other! It’s an inevitable cycle that is filled with love in between all the spats. I am the proud parent of two boys. My oldest is 6 years old and quite mellow. He also happens to have autism. He is considered to be nonverbal but communicates with an augmentative communication device. My youngest is 3 years old, neurotypical, and a loud ball of energy. He will be the first person to push his brother’s buttons and to hit him for no reason, but he is also his brother’s biggest supporter and the first to give him a hug when he comes home after school. Watching them interact brings so much joy to my life. Their squeals and laughter as they run through the house prove that love needs no words. I cherish these moments because I know that, in the future, our lives will look much different.
My husband and I have begun discussing what will happen when we get older. Who will help our oldest child when we are no longer on this Earth? It’s a scary topic that many of us special needs parents don’t like to think about. In many cases, if a child with special needs has a sibling, it is the sibling who assumes the role of the caregiver. Research has shown that siblings of children with special needs go through the same emotions as their parents. Siblings wonder, “What if? And what will happen when..?”
Sometimes siblings of children with special needs can feel unloved or desire more attention. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. People are constantly invading your home to see your sibling; to help your sibling; to play with your sibling. What about you? Who is coming to play with you? Who is coming over to help you learn things? Why don’t you get to partake in some of the cool events for kids with special needs that your sibling does? As a parent, I feel for my little one sometimes. Our lives are focused so much on our journey with autism that we don’t always get to do things just for him. We may go on a new outing and sometimes his brother has a hard time because of his sensory sensitivities. By no means do we feel that his brother is a burden to our family; rather, autism can simply make regular day to day activities a little more challenging.
So what can we do for these siblings? We can give them extra one on one attention and do things that they are interested in. We can assure them that we have plans in place for the future. We can give them a safe place to play with other siblings, where they can share their feelings without judgment. Where others will truly understand what it’s like to have a sibling with special needs. Does this place exist? You bet it does! The staff at Arizona Autism United has been trained and certified to provide the leading national sibling support program, Sibshops.
Sibshops is a fun and energetic program. These events allow participants to acknowledge their life-long concerns and meet other siblings in a relaxed and recreational setting. Activities include discussing common joys and concerns, learning how to handle situations commonly experienced by others in the group, and learning more about the implications of having a sibling with special needs. The Sibshops model is the first national program dedicated to the life-long and ever-changing concerns of millions of brothers and sisters of people with special health, developmental, and mental health concerns. It is a nationally recognized program that exists in many states through a variety of organizations.
The parent of a recent Sibshops participant shared, “What I like about Sibshops is that it gives kids a chance to talk about their feelings and that it’s therapeutic! Kids learn that there are other kids that have special needs siblings and the problems or good things that come with it. It’s always good to know that you are not alone. It makes things seem not so bad anymore and it’s a very good feeling. It brings a relief and hope!” Another parent told us, “It gives kids a break from problems at home and it gives parents a break too! I know my child is well taken care of at Sibshops and I can relax or run errands.”
Sibshops is held on the first Saturday of each month for neurotypical siblings of children with any type of special need. Siblings must be between the ages of 7 to 14 to participate. Registration is required and your first session is free! You can view a list of upcoming classes and register online here.