Grace has been attending a series of sibling workshops (sibshops) this year. The group meets once a month, and the leaders plan different activities for the kids who have a brother or sister with special needs. They order in dinner, do crafts, play in the gym, and play games. I don’t think that they talk a whole lot about special needs, but even just knowing that the other kids get what she is dealing with seems to be enormously reassuring to Grace.
She has such a booming social life, and is involved in many activities after school, so I didn’t think that she really needed a program like this. I thought she would be less psyched about hanging out with a random group of kids once a month than she is about seeing her friends. But I thought we owed her the opportunity to at least check it out. I was pleasantly surprised to see Grace’s reaction to the program. It is truly her favourite day of the month, and she pretty well floats on air the whole day leading up to it. She even chose to go on her birthday instead of going out for dinner.
Tonight was the last night until the fall, and they had an extra-special treat. Community Living Burlington donated teddy bears for them to stuff, and each child got to bring home 3 complete outfits for their bear. Grace said that she was singing about teddy bears all day today in anticipation. Even the older boys seemed thrilled with their new cuddly friends.
Grace also participated in a full-day sibling workshop at Erinoak Kids on a Saturday in the winter. I believe they talked more about feelings and also they had an opportunity to try out some of the equipment that kids with special physical needs would get to use. Grace thought that was really exciting.
I notice that some of the other kids try to initiate a conversation with Grace about specific things that their siblings do that upset them, and they ask if she has the same experience. She responds in a very empathetic way, but seems careful to avoid complaining about her sisters in any way. I don’t think that it is because I am standing there, because I have heard from other moms how fiercely loyal Grace is. I think that is an area that I would like to see her explore more – to be able to open up and understand that having feelings of frustration is perfectly okay. But for now, she seems content just being around others who “get it.”
The reality of being Grace is that she puts up with a lot of crap that other sisters don’t have to deal with, and often misses out on experiences that other kids have. As much as we try not to use autism as an excuse for not being able to go somewhere as a family, it is a reality. We can’t even drop Grace off at a friend’s house or go the dollar store to buy supplies for a project after school without an elaborate plan, and Grace is so good about understanding that. But it’s nice to be able to show her the perks of having a sister with special needs too, and sibshops are just one of many of those.
If you have a child with special needs, I really encourage you to look into whether a program like this exists in your area. I have heard them called Sibshops, Sibling Workshops, and Brothers and Sisters Day. Grace is one of the more outgoing and confident kids her age, and is better adjusted than anyone else in this house, and yet she is benefiting tremendously from these programs.