The needs of children with disabilities are evident, but what about the families that are fragmented by those “special needs?”
The Sibling Program at The Root Farm was developed to bring a special needs child together with an able bodied sibling and foster a trusting relationship between them. Both are allowed the opportunity to learn barn and vaulting skills and increase their confidence and aptitude for everyday tasks. We try to create a positive experience for each child, particularly the child we assumed was the more needy.
In the beginning, although siblings were encouraged to work together, their sessions seemed to became more and more disjointed. We began to see that able-bodied siblings often bear an enormous -- and sometimes unwelcome -- responsibility for the handicapped brother or sister.
Out of necessity, a sibling may be given the role of caretaker and may willingly accept the responsibility. However, we began to see the resentment – and yes, even envy -- that the able bodied brothers or sisters sometimes feel toward a family member with a disability.
Too often there is little chance for the able-bodied sibling to claim time alone with mom or dad, to be number one, to feel special.
Seeing how “needy” the siblings were, we began to restructure our Sibling Program. We still give our special needs child and his or her sibling time together in a session, but now we develop an individualized plan for each.
The children work together in a sibling session with activities tailored to their individual needs, and they are able to learn by imitation and/or modeling while observing the other’s progress.
Their barn time allows siblings an opportunity to work together, and their mounted activities further the association, strengthening the family structure and encouraging positive interaction. Parents often report that positive interaction at The Root Farm is carried over at home.
Work in the Sibling Program has allowed all of us a deeper understanding of and compassion for the lifestyle and concerns of families with special needs children.