Brothers and sisters of children with developmental needs have concerns that are well documented in research. These concerns include a need for information, feelings of isolation, care-giving responsibilities, guilt, pressure to achieve and concerns about the future.
CoAction West Cork, a voluntary organisation providing services to people with learning disabilities in West Cork, have set up a programme of Sibling Workshops to support siblings of children who attend their services. Members of CoAction’s Community Services team attended a Sibshop Seminar conducted by Don Meyer from the Sibling Support Project in Seattle, Washington. They have since held three workshops in West Cork based on the Seattle programme. The primary aim of these workshops is to give children who have siblings with a learning disability the opportunity to meet, develop friendships and realise that there are others who also experience the special joys and challenges that they do. Friendships developed in these Sibshops can often continue outside the programme and provide ongoing support to siblings.
All children aged between 6 and 14 years who have a brother or sister attending CoAction’s services can attend the workshops. The first two workshops were held in Dunmanway and Bantry, and were very well attended. Sibshops are based around high energy / activity games interspersed with informal discussions about what it is like to live with a brother or sister with special needs. Children are assured at the outset that any issues and opinions shared within the group will be kept confidential. One of the main parts of the day is the preparation of lunch together and this is where a lot of informal chats and conversations take place.
The workshops, which are run by members of CoAction’s Community Services Team, try to have one adult on the team who has a sibling with a learning disability and this has proved to be a great support to the children. All staff who run the workshops have also undergone in-service training on running Sibshops.
The feedback from Sibshop participants has been very positive and some parents have commented that this is the first time that the child has had an experience with CoAction that is unique to them. The other experiences they have had with the organizstion have all been based around their brother or sister attending CoAction’s services. Adrian McCarthy, who attended one of the workshops gives the following account of his experience:
‘My name is Adrian. I am 12 years old. Now I am going to tell you about my experience at Sibshop. When I arrived they were making name tags so everyone would know everyone else’s names. There were lots of markers, colouring pencils and stickers on the table to decorate our name tags. After we knew each other’s names we discussed where our names came from. My mum called me Adrian because she heard another mother calling her baby that and liked the name.
We played a few more games before lunch. We played human bingo, beanbags and time capsule. I really enjoyed time capsule, that was when we chose a capsule, opened it and it would say a time when I was proud of my brother / sister. Then we would say times when we were proud of our brother or sister. After lunch we played a very energetic but very enjoyable game called “Pushpin Soccer”. The object of the game was to hit a balloon with your hand to your keeper who had a pin and popped the balloon to win a score. My favourite games after lunch were clay modelling and Aunt Blabby. Aunt Blabby is an agony aunt, but she doesn’t know what to do with problems that come from brothers or sisters of children with special needs so Aunt Blabby asked for our help. At the end we had to give feedback and we decided to call the group Cáirde.
I loved the Sibshop; it was very enjoyable. All the adults who helped out were very kind. They had good fun when they joined Pushpin Soccer. I would love if Sibshop was on weekly.’