The Sibling Project at the Mental Health Association in Orange County, NY

Over the past twenty five years, Mental Health Association in Orange County, Inc. has had the pleasure of hosting The Siblings Project; a group for siblings of children with developmental disabilities. The participants, otherwise known as the “Super Siblings,” meet monthly on Saturday mornings to partake in meaningful activities and experiences throughout Orange County, NY. Before COVID-19, this group met for a multitude of different activities such as arts and crafts, mini golf, arcades/escape rooms, holiday parties and more. Since the pandemic, the group continued meeting via Zoom; playing games like trivia and Pictionary together. In August of 2020, the group was able to meet in person for the first time in months. The Super Siblings were thrilled to see each other again, and although we all had to maintain a distance, we were all able to play some outdoor games and go on a nature scavenger hunt together at Thomas Bull Memorial Park. Watching those kids playing together after months of isolation really warmed my heart, and it made me hopeful that the best is yet to come.

Although these activities are recreational, a clinical approach is added to ensure the Super Siblings get to share their personal experiences. An integral part of our group would be our Special Education teacher, Jacqueline Murray, who facilitates along with staff and adds that clinical approach to each gathering. Both Jacki and staff create a safe space for those who attend to express themselves. It is understood that each sibling’s emotions and feelings are entirely valid, which is the foundation on which this group was built on. Not only is this a safe space for the Super Siblings to express their anger, sadness, embarrassed feelings, or confusion, but they are surrounded by others who go through the same or similar life situations. It’s a wonderful opportunity for those who participate to make lifelong friends who understand them on a different level than other may.

Currently, we are all experiencing overwhelming thoughts and feelings, but to a child or adult on the spectrum, this is exacerbating. Individuals with autism have difficulty with change to schedules, surprises, transitioning, and transcribing emotions; making home life hard on a sibling. If you are a sibling, and you care for or live with a brother or sister with a developmental disability, please read this message: be kind to yourself. Give yourself more credit. You are doing everything you can to maintain this new “normal” for yourself and loved one. During these unprecedented times, it’s difficult not to feel defeated. If you haven’t heard this message today, please know that you’re doing a great job, your sibling cares for you, and others care for you as well.

Jessica Markman is Developmental Disabilities Family Support Supervisor at the Mental Health Association in Orange County, Inc. If you have any questions regarding The Sibling Project, please contact myself, Jessica Markman: jmarkman@mhaorangeny.com or 845-342-2400 ext. 1253.

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