“When you are dealing with special needs in the house, it is a much harder road for siblings than for their peers. After a diagnosis, services focus on the affected child and occasionally try do something for parents if they appear to be at breaking point, but rarely is attention paid to the siblings whom this is a really hard thing to go through as well,” says Emma Dune, the mother of child with a severe disability. In response to this problem faced by many families, the Irish Autism Action (IAA) introduced Sibshops, which is a sibling-support group based in Drogheda.
Sibshops is for children between the ages of 7 and 13 years and is regularly run in five centres around the country. It was initially offered to siblings of children on the autism spectrum but is now open to families of children with any sort of disability. The programme was devised by Don Meyers and is currently led by Olive Whelan. “Each session is a fun-filled activity within which there are therapeutic elements. It is the social and emotional intelligence that I really tap into – their resilience and their coping skills,” says Whelan. Whelan is a trained teacher and therapist, and gives feedback to parents after each session.
Sinead Moran, who is a specialist liaison nurse manager with Jack and Jill Children’s Foundation has conducted in depth research into the impact of having a brother or sister with a life-limiting condition. “It brings happiness and sadness. Children want to help with their sibling but they also want a normal family life,” said Moran. Moran’s review of various international studies for her thesis for a Master’s degree of science in children and young people’s complex needs and palliative care from Coventry University, found that children also have feelings of anger and jealousy. “They didn’t want to be angry and struggled with that. They are also worried about their parents and, if upset, would rather talk to other people, for fear of adding to their parents’ burden,” said Moran.
The fact that children keep coming back to Sibshops over the years, proves that there is a need for these types of programmes. “I work them hard, cognitively and emotionally . . . but they are coming back to talk more about what it’s like. And it’s not a whingeing session,” Whelan says. “There is a lot of humour and well-placed laughter. When one child during a session recounts an incident with a sibling and others pipe up “That happens me too,” we know it’s working, allowing these children to bond by sharing experiences.” To read the full article, click here.