We asked Barbara Fishbein-Germon, social worker in Holland Bloorview's child development program, to answer this question about siblings.
Q. I'm wondering how to best support my daughters (who have very different abilities) in having a meaningful and equal sibling relationship?
A. Barbara Fishbein-Germon: This is a wonderful question.
There are many ways that this parent can support his or her children to have meaningful relationships. I think the first thing to do is to try to think of activities they can all do together. This can take creativity on the part of parents and children and may vary depending on the needs of the child with different abilities. Many activities can be adapted and many programs are designed to include the entire family.
If your child uses a wheelchair, how about a visit to the accessible Windreach Farm? Your kids can pet the farm animals, take a trail walk, go for a wagon ride, and at this time of the year -- Meet Santa! Swimming is a fun activity to do as a family. Holland Bloorview offers two nights and one weekend swim for families in our heated pool. Both of your children can attend an integrated camp -- like our Spiral Garden program, which is run by artists. Many of our Centre for the Arts programs are open to children with and without disabilities. The Geneva Centre has a movie night that is free for everyone and accommodates children with autism. Contact the Geneva Centre to find out about movies in the New Year.
When one child has a disability, I think it's important that parents foster a culture of accepting difference. Starting early, you can find lots of books that celebrate all kinds of differences related to cultures, families and abilities.
I encourage parents to be open with siblings about their child's condition, strengths and challenges. It can be helpful to bring siblings to a few medical and therapy appointments because brothers and sisters can feel left out when not included. Also, without information, siblings may develop fears about the unknown.
Don't forget when coming to Holland Bloorview that our Ronald McDonald Playroom is open to children with and without disabilities aged 2 1/2 and up. This can be useful if you need to speak with a doctor or therapist on your own, want to look something up in our Family Resource Centre, or just want a coffee break!
Try to balance the time and attention you give each of your children. Kids need individual attention with their parents, so plan special outings with each child.
By developing a circle of support around your child with disability, you will have people who can support you in meeting both of your children's needs. For example, a member of your support network may offer to take care of your child with disability so you can have a special afternoon with your other child. The support network is also there to help your child with disability develop friendships and interests because each child needs friends and activities separate from their sibling. You can learn more about support networks by calling Holland Bloorview's warmline: 1-877-463-0365. Don't forget to ask about sibling panels offered through Holland Bloorview's family education workshops.
When someone offers to help -- whether through babysitting or cooking -- accept the offer!
Your daughter without disability may benefit from talking to other children who have siblings with disabilities. The Young Carers Program offers weekly, drop in and special events for children involved in caring for a brother or sister. Many of the programs are fun and include acting, cooking, photography and art.
The Sibling Support Project also offers many valuable resources, including the opportunity to connect online or at events with other siblings.
This earlier BLOOM article looked at some of the common issues facing siblings: 'What about me? Aren't I special?'
Thanks for your question!