I am not new to the world of disabilities, but I am new to the world of siblings of those who have disabilities. Honestly, I had no idea what to expect when I accepted an offer to attend the first day of the Sibshop workshop in Chicago co-sponsored by Clearbrook, SIBS (Supporting Illinois Brothers and Sisters), and Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center on October 24, 2014.
I found a group from SIBS shortly after walking into the training and they made me feel comfortable. SIBS is the Illinois chapter of the national Sibling Leadership Network.
Don Meyer did a great job of explaining the lifelong issues faced by siblings of people with disabilities. The first portion of the day went into detail about the lives of siblings of people with disabilities. Often, siblings take on a caregiving role for their brothers and sisters with a disability throughout their lives. They are on high alert while in public with their brothers and sisters with disabilities and are asked questions that other children just never have to deal with. However, Don Meyer also did a great job of pointing out that siblings have positive experiences and also have positive qualities that come from being a sibling. Some examples are compassion, empathy, resiliency, and the ability to multi-task and perform in high stress situations.
I learned about Sibshops, which are fun gatherings for siblings to play as well as share about their experiences. Sibshops have given kids who have brothers and sisters with disabilities a safe place to express how they really feel. During Sibshops, children play games and get to eat candy! It is any kid’s heaven, and they begin to develop relationships with other siblings. As the children grow up, they will come to value these relationships with other siblings as they make tough choices that few others understand. For more information about Sibshops, visit the Sibling Support Project.
Thankfully there are groups out there such as SIBS who were co-sponsors of the workshop and even provided a social gathering after the first day of the event. SIBS also contributed members to my favorite part of day one: the sibling panel.
The sibling panel included siblings of individuals with a range of disabilities. To start, Don had the siblings introduce themselves without even mentioning their brothers and sisters with disabilities. This was hard for some which showed how a person’s identity often overlaps with the fact that they have a sibling with a disability. Next, Don asked questions to the panel about their living situations, future planning, what has worked in the past, and what has not worked. Some of the siblings desired to live with their sibling forever while others clearly said they wanted to remain close with their siblings while also having their own life. Siblings also were of different ages. Some have made future plans, including estate planning decisions while others had not thought about those things yet. The panel highlighted that the sibling relationship is the longest relationship that most people have. Even though every sibling relationship is unique, there are a lot of common stories and experiences. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to attend the Sibshop training and I look forward to learning more about siblings of people with disabilities.