Posted by Alyssa Laser

SibshopsWhat is one of the most important relationships in the life of someone with disabilities? Their sibling! Although many services focus on the child with a disability, their brothers and sisters also need support around their experiences and challenges of having a sibling with special needs.

JF&CS recognized the needs of siblings of kids with disabilities, so in April 2013, JF&CS sponsored a Sibshops training. Led by Don Meyer, Director of the National Sibling Support Project, this training taught providers how to run their own local Sibshops groups. Sibshops are lively programs focused on the needs of brothers and sisters of kids with special needs. The training was a huge success – there were nearly 100 participants including parents, professional providers, adult siblings, and young siblings.

In his thank you to JF&CS for hosting, Don Meyer said, "What an amazing conference in Massachusetts! I have been all over the country and the world and this was the largest conference I have ever conducted. I am not surprised Massachusetts is the leader in this effort. The energy and commitment JF&CS was able to bring together, to focus on sibs, should be recognized and followed by states throughout the USA."

This year, JF&CS and Wayland Youth and Family Services are hosting our first Sibshop since Don Meyer's training in April. January 12 was the first of four sessions of this inaugural Sibshops workshop. Attendees were sibs (ages 8-12) of kids with disabilities. These workshops consist of mixers for sibs to make new friends, fun games, and discussion-based activities.

The first session included ice breakers and active games including push pin soccer, last sib standing, and triangle tag. Sibs also participated in an activity called "Dear Aunt Blabby," a bogus advice columnist who receives letters from brothers and sisters who have concerns similar to those participants may experience. The participants - experts on the subject of being a sibling of a person with special needs - provided the letter writer with advice, drawing from their own experiences. We weren't sure how much the sibs would open up in this first session and in a group of people they did not know well, but once the letters were read they were all excited to share their stories and tips on having a sibling with a disability.

Overall, our first Sibshop was a great success, and we look forward to the next sessions. The sibs made new friends, shared experiences of having a sibling with special needs, and, most importantly, had fun!

Alyssa Laser is the Community Programs Manager for a cluster of homes including two new houses in Newton and Malden. As the Community Programs Manager, Alyssa oversees the efficient and effective operation of the services provided by the JF&CS Community Programs and works with individuals with mild to moderate developmental disabilities and their families in community living.