With an entire blog dedicated to autism, we realize many of our families have children that aren’t on the spectrum. For this reason, we recently sat down with Cathy Harrison, Seattle Children’s Child Life Specialist and asked her about Sibshops. Sibshops, developed right here at Seattle Children’s over 25 years ago by Don Meyer, are for siblings of children with ongoing special health care or developmental concerns.

Sibshops are workshops where the typically developing sibling can go for support, some basic education around their sibling’s health concerns and recreational time with peers facing similar situations. The workshops are held one Saturday a month, every other month. They are led by a variety of people; child life specialists, play room coordinators, social workers, teachers, nurses, and even adult siblings. The siblings are separated by age in a group for 6-9 year olds and 10-13 year olds.

The groups usually have about 20 siblings present and are supervised by 2-3 volunteers and 2-3 facilitators. Siblings choose to attend a morning or afternoon session and can sign up for one session or all five of them.

The workshop might start out with an icebreaker as easy as, “My name is Sarah. My brother has autism.” Another activity called “Time Capsule” invites the siblings to share about a specific time that they felt a certain way because of their sibling. For example, “A time I was proud …” or “A time I was embarrassed …” An activity called “Moccasins” encourages siblings to take the sibling’s perspective into account or to “walk in their shoes.”

Harrison says, “It’s not a gripe session.” It’s a chance to share what they are going through and to realize, “Hey, I’m not alone,” but also to think about what their sibling is going through.

One activity attempts to simulate what it might be like to have a limitation. For example, group members are paired up and given a task to complete. The catch- one of them may be blindfolded, or given noise-cancelling headphones, while another may not be allowed to use certain words- or any words at all, to communicate. Though it may feel like a game, Harrison says, after the activity the siblings are surprised at how hard the task was, or how uncomfortable it may have been to trust someone else or not be able to do something on their own. The activities are as much a bonding experience as a time to gain perspective on what their siblings may be experiencing.

Harrison says most of the time children attend Sibshops because their parents heard about it and wanted them to go. But, she guesses, 99.9% of the time they beg to come back! “It’s fun and it’s something just for them.”

If you know someone that might enjoy Sibshops, registration is still open for the September session. If you don’t live in the area, but are still interested, visit Sibling Support Project to find other Sibshops.