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Sibling Support Programs

By: Brenda Souto
National Alliance for the Mentally Ill

Accompanied by my college-age daughter (a sibling) and a friend who has an adult brother with schizophrenia, I attended a training event some time ago that took me back to my days as a Girl Scout leader. Don Meyer, the director of the Sibling Support Program, was in nearby Baltimore, modeling the Sibling Support Program he had created at the Children’s Hospital in Seattle.

Kids who have brothers and sisters with disabilities have needs of their own, needs that are often overlooked. The Sibling Support Program model provides much-needed social and emotional support to school-age brothers and sisters, support in a recreational atmosphere that kids will enjoy. At Sibshops, kids have an opportunity to share their good—and maybe not so good—feelings with other kids who understand these feelings.

After our training, where many siblings came to participate, I spoke with several children who had siblings with neurological brain disorders (NBDs) and realized how flexible the Sibshop model is. The program gave these kids an immediate peer group in which they could share their frustrations and fears, irrespective of the illness or special needs of their brother and sisters.

Over the past half-dozen years, Meyer has trained folks around the country to provide sibling support workshops, primarily for kids age 8 through thirteen. He has also co-authored a guidebook for communities, providers, parents, and caregivers that gives all the basic information contained in the training I attended. This resource is Sibshops: Workshops for Siblings of Children with Special Needs by Meyer & Patricia F. Vadasy (Paul H. Brookes Publishers, 1994. 256 pages, paperback.) It’s available from major booksellers in your neighborhood and online.

This guidebook will help you to plan, budget, promote, and run a successful Sibshop, whether you’re a service provider or family member. It’s as easy for a community group to organize a sibshop as it is to plan a camp fire or scout event. But it doesn’t have to be an every-week occurrence. Sibshops can be held twice a year and still have a positive impact for siblings. You’ll find all kinds of the activities for a Sibshop event in the guidebook, from paper-and-pen activities to high-energy games to group discussions.

For more information about Sibshops and a list of current Sibshops operating in your state, go to the Sibling Support Project Web site at

In the meantime...

There is an email listserv for kids who have siblings with disabilities. It is called SibKids! and is sponsored by the Sibling Support Project. It is the only listserv in the world dedicated solely to the well-being of young brothers and sisters of youngsters with disabilities. To help your youngster subscribe, visit the SibKids! subscription page with him or her. If you cannot access that page or if your browser does not support forms, follow these instructions:

1. Email
2. In the body of the message, type: subscribe sibkids,
3. Leave the subject line blank.
4. Send.