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By G. Nick Lundskow -- The Capital
Carole Gilmour and her son Christopher are among those who attend Sipshops.
Workshops help siblings of special needs children

It was a good couple of days for Carole Gilmour.

Her older son, Sean, 9, won a history competition at his elementary school.

And her younger son, Christopher, 5, didn't have any seizures.

With his epilepsy always looming and the develop-mental delays from it a constant struggle, life doesn't always go smoothly for the Arnold family. But they've learned to roll with the punches.

One of things that's helped Sean cope is a series of workshops called Sibshops, which are geared to the siblings of special needs children.

"Sibshops has enhanced his self-esteem, his confidence," Ms. Gilmour said. "It's also made him very aware of other kids with other issues."

The next session of Sibshops, offered through Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital, Abilities Network and The Arc of Anne Arundel County, begins Feb. 22 in Annapolis. Each session consists of four, four-hour meetings, held once a month on Saturdays. The meetings are a mix of advice, games, sharing, coping and bonding among the children.

"This is a huge step forward and a way of celebrating their role in the family," said Kathleen Flahive, who works for The Arc and is one the facilitators for Sibshops. The Arc provides advocacy and support for people with disabilities.

But, Ms. Flahive stressed, the program isn't meant as therapy or counseling. Rather, it's intended to provide peer support.

Sean thought it was simply fun - and he liked the games.

Jaclyn St. Armand, 12, of Bowie, said she's made lasting friends from the meetings she's attended and wants to go back to Sibshops.

"It felt good to have them to talk to," she said of the other children who went to the workshops. "I knew they felt like I did."

Jaclyn, a seventh-grader at Holy Redeemer School in College Park, said she used used to be embarrassed when the family would head to a restaurant or the mall and her brother would start to scream or throw food. Brian, 8, is autistic.

"I probably feel a little of the same (now), but also happy I have a brother like him," she said.

Their mother, Ronda, said the change is a direct result of the workshops.

Some of the issues the children who attend Sibhops are grappling with include: trying to understand their sibling's disability; coping with the fact that their sibling sometimes requires more attention; and coping with their friends' questions about their siblings.

"I think kids with brothers and sisters with disabilities should consider joining Sibshops," Jaclyn said. "They're very understanding and considerate of your feelings."

Sibshops has been offered in Anne Arundel County twice before, starting last winter. The session that's about to begin is open to a maximum of 20 children age 8 to 13.

In addition to Anne Arundel, Sibshops is offered in Baltimore, Carroll, Howard and Montgomery counties. The program began five years ago in Baltimore.

Jerri Kamicker of St. Margarets also had praise for the program. Her daughter, Hope, 9, attended a prior session. Her son, Philip, 3, has motor delays.

"I would say she was certainly more appreciative of her brother and the work he has to do in physical therapy," Ms. Kamicker said. "She's (also) a lot more accepting of other children with differences. I think it's a nice program."

Although Sean is reluctant to discuss it, Ms. Gilmour knows other children have asked about Christopher, or will ask. She also knows that Sean sometimes feels uncomfortable dealing with the consequences of his brother's condition.

'I think there has been a change for him (because of Sibshops)," said the boys' father, Paul Gilmour.

Added Ms. Gilmour: "I think this is the closest we've ever been. (Sean's) had an education most people haven't had, and I think it will aid him in compassion."


The next session of Sibshops begins Feb. 22, and continues on March 15, April 12 and May 17. Each of the four meetings runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at St. Andrew by the Bay Church, 701 College Parkway in Annapolis. A fee of $20 is charged for the series of workshops. Some scholarships are available. For more information or to register, call 800-999-9442, Ext. 5169.

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Published February 06, 2003, The Capital, Annapolis, Md.
Copyright 2003 The Capital, Annapolis, Md.

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