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Program helps siblings of children with special needs

Sibshops aims to help a group of children who are often overlooked — the brothers and sisters of those who have special needs.
Sibshops is a program that aims to help children whose siblings have special needs.

Delois Meyer has three children, but her youngest family members have had to take on extra responsibilities from a young age.

“My oldest daughter has Down syndrome,” Meyer said. “I have two younger daughters and we have that dynamic where their oldest sibling — they actually have to help take care of her sometimes.”

Meyer, an admissions and parent service coordinator for the Bal Swan Children’s Center, decided to create Sibshops to help children like her own.

“The program is a workshop with trained facilitators, and it’s basically to help support children who have siblings with a disability or a medical need,” she said. “The program typically ranges from ages 7 to 12, and it just gives those kids an opportunity to be around other kids that understand what they’re going through in their family.”

The workshops are designed to be fun for children while they make their connections, Meyer explained.

“It’s not like they’re coming to therapy — they’re not sitting down and talking about their feelings,” she said. 

The therapy is instead introduced in a more “strategic way,” Meyer said.

“For example, one of the games that they play in Sibshops is called ‘Feelings on a Rope,’ and we have one facilitator on one end, and one on the other, and they’ll start off with something like, ‘if you love pepperoni pizza, go to that end of the rope, if you absolutely cannot stand pepperoni pizza, go to this end,” she said.

“So they start with these small questions, and then it leads up to ‘you’re at a restaurant with your family, and your sibling, who has a disability, does something that’s embarrassing. How do you feel? If you’re extremely embarrassed, stay at this end of the rope, and if it doesn’t bother you at all, stay at this end — if you’re OK, then stay in the middle.”

Children are able to bond with other kids like them, and not feel like they’re alone in their experiences, Meyer said. 

“Maybe they’ve never been able to make that connection before,” she explained.

That feeling of isolation is particularly important to break, as having a sibling who has special needs can put strain on the family dynamic, Meyer said.

“The sibling with the disability sometimes gets more attention,” she said. “There are more medical needs sometimes, so there can be a financial strain and an emotional strain. The overall health of that child can kind of take over — the therapy needs, the driving around. The siblings might feel left out because parents are really giving more attention and time and money to that sibling.”

The workshops provide children with an outlet to share those experiences, and they often form friendships and hang out with each other outside the program, Meyer said. 

Teenagers can also connect with others their age by participating as junior facilitators and volunteers.

Meyer started the program in 2019, but like many other initiatives, it was put on hold during the pandemic. The workshops are set to begin Jan. 22 at FRIENDS of Broomfield, 11851 Saulsbury St.

The Bal Swan Children’s Center aims to raise up to $2,000 in sponsorships for Sibshops to help with the $200 registration cost for families.

Amber Fisher

About the Author: Amber Fisher

I'm thrilled to be an assistant editor with the Longmont Leader after spending the past decade reporting for news outlets across North America. When I'm not writing, you can find me snowboarding, reading fiction and running (poorly).
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