Surrounded by other siblings of children with disabilities, Sammy Betker shared a heartwarming message with CBS19, “I’m not the only person that has to go through the things that I go through.”
Sammy’s sister has autism, and at the Sibling Support Program hosted by the Virginia Institute of Autism (VIA) and Charlottesville Parks and Recreation, Sammy got to meet other siblings like her.
“By the end of the day, all the kids shared that they loved coming to the group and wished we could meet weekly,” said Hilary Nagel, VIA’s Family Resource Navigator.
The day started with games and ice breakers, and breakfast thanks to Dunkin’ Donuts. The siblings did role play activities, talked about their strengths and weaknesses, and ate lunch with their new friends thanks to Slice Pizza. After lunch, they listened to a panel of adult siblings of people with disabilities look back on their experiences.
“I’ve been learning some new tips about how when they freak out, how to keep them under control and some good ideas to hang out with them that don’t cause stress,” participant Maggie Morris, who has two brothers with autism, told CBS19. “It’s a great opportunity for kids who share their feelings about brothers and sisters who have disabilities and get to know people who have the same problems.”
The siblings made therapeutic crafts, like pillowcases. On one side, they wrote their dreams for themselves in five years, and on the other, their dreams for their siblings. The day was a chance to bond, and share their feelings with other kids who could truly understand.
“Almost ¾ of the group expressed that they did not have a friend that had a special needs sibling,” said Nagel. “By the end of our day, everyone in the group interacted with others (creating the foundation of potential friendships). We noted that many of the kids came in scared, tentative and quiet in the start of the day. By the end, they were ALL engaged with their peers, and interacting and having fun!”
Parents got to check in with their children at the end of the day and hear about what they learned. Parent Crystal Marrs wrote on VIA’s Facebook page, “Thanks so much for the siblings class today. The children REALLY enjoyed it. I never heard so many thank yous from them today for taking them. Hope you have another one!”
Thank you to our siblings and families, volunteers, Dunkin’ Donuts, Slice Pizza, CBS19, and of course Therapeutic Recreation and Hilary Nagel’s team here at VIA for making the day a success for our siblings!