The typically developing brothers and sisters of children with special needs are a special group too. Though they are unique individuals, they often share a set of concerns and challenges that come with their role. A significant fact sometimes overlooked is that these brothers and sisters will most likely be involved in the lives of their siblings with special needs longer than anyone else in the family. This alone demonstrates the importance of providing them with education, support and information that will lay a solid and healthy foundation for their journey ahead.

At St. Francis Children’s Center, we are delighted to help provide this foundation through our offering of a program called Sibshops, founded in 1990. In the Sibshops sessions, typically offered monthly, the children engage in energetic games and activities that foster friendship, trust and bonding. This in turn allows them to engage in open and frank discussions about their love for their siblings with special needs as well as the frustrations they experience because of them.

Common themes emerge when the children discuss these complex relationships. Often times these kids feel left out and ignored due to so much family attention and resources being focused upon the siblings with special needs. Some express resentment that their families cannot visit restaurants or recreational spots because the special needs may create a barrier. Children worry they may be responsible for their siblings when they become adults, and they wonder how they will navigate this unknown future. They also experience mixed emotions when their siblings with special needs are bullied or made fun of. It angers and saddens them when this happens, yet they are sometimes embarrassed by their siblings. Some have disclosed the worry of acquiring the conditions experienced by their brothers or sisters.

Attending Sibshops allows children to express their concerns, fears and frustrations in a safe and accepting environment where they learn that their new-found friends experience the very same feelings. The adult facilitators, specially trained to offer Sibshops groups, carefully guide discussion and validate the children’s feelings.

Former Sibshops attendees have expressed deep appreciation for what the program has brought to their lives beyond closer relationships with their siblings. Lasting friendships have been made with others they’ve met through the program and some have been inspired to choose career paths working with individuals with special needs and disabilities.

Learn more about Sibshops on our website or by contacting Cherie Purdy, FAC Coordinator, at 

By Dori Buschke, Director of Programs

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