Celebrating the brothers and sisters of young wheelchair users on National Siblings Day

Sophie Dearman was inspired by her childhood experience with her brother to set up our services for siblings today

No one knows you like your brother or sister knows you. Siblings develop special powers and privileges in your shared childhood. To make you laugh until it hurts. To borrow your stuff without asking. To annoy you more effectively than anyone else on the planet. But they’re always there for you. And at Whizz-Kidz, we are here for them too.

Being the brother or sister of a young wheelchair user is a unique relationship that’s full of joy but comes with its own challenges. They have a deep, caring connection with their disabled sibling but can be impacted by the disability. Getting used to coming second to the needs of another and showing the kind of selflessness that most adults would struggle with is a huge test. Daily life will understandably focus on your brother or sister; you could feel ignored by your parents and constrained by your sibling's abilities. Many brothers and sisters will be actively involved in caring or expected to help their parents at home.

Siblings of young wheelchair users need our support not just on National Siblings Day, an international awareness day on 10th April, but throughout the year. They deserve to feel valued and know how important they are.

At Whizz-Kidz, we set up our Sibling Group to show we care. These online sessions are a way for the brothers and sisters of a disabled sibling to meet children in a similar situation. They can talk about their feelings, build their confidence and have a load of fun as they take part in pre-arranged activities ranging from craft makes to playing games. The packs of equipment and materials arriving through the post are just the start of building excitement for the session.

How Sophie's story inspired her to help siblings today 

Our volunteer support officer, Sophie Dearman (above), was inspired to set up the group through her childhood experience with her brother, Harry (pictured together when younger, below). "My brother and I have always had a very close relationship. I have had complex health issues since he was a baby, which means he doesn’t really remember a time when things were ‘normal’," she says. 

Sophie, a wheelchair user, spent time in hospital when she was young. She got first-hand experience of how disabilty could affect her brother. She says:

There were times when it looked likely I wouldn’t survive. There was support available for me, but there wasn’t for him, which I never understood. Yes, I was the one who was seriously ill and disabled, but he was living it too. Our whole family was.”

People underestimate the impact of watching a sibling experience ill health and disability, Sophie says. So she jumped at the chance to set up Whizz-Kidz's first Sibling Groups. She says:

I wish something like this had been available for my brother when he needed them, and while I can’t make that happen, I can make sure that we are here for siblings now.

“Our Sibling Group sessions provide siblings with a safe space to explore their feelings, develop coping strategies, have fun with other siblings and be themselves! I absolutely love our Sibling Group events – being able to provide a safe space for the siblings which is just for them is truly magical,” she added.

So are there any highlights from the groups where she thought this is really working?
“There have been so many incredible highlights! One moment that made me realise how special our Sibling Group events are was when a child who had attended a few events but had never turned their camera on or spoken, actively participated for the first time. The siblings' and parents' feedback has been wonderful, and I get a little emotional reading it sometimes!”

How Whizz-Kidz makes a difference to siblings

You can see what Sophie means with feedback from this brother and sister, Amelia, 11, and George, 9, (above) who attend the Sibling Group at Whizz-Kidz.

Samuel, their older brother (also above), has cerebral palsy, which affects him physically, and he is a full-time wheelchair user. He is non-verbal, uses a communication aid to communicate and also has a diagnosis of autism.

When asked what they liked about the group, the duo say: “We like that we get to be with families like ours. Sometimes, children at school don’t understand what it is like having a brother with a disability, how we can’t go to places if they are not accessible or how Sam wouldn’t enjoy them.

It’s nice to be the same as everyone else. We like that we can meet other children with brothers or sisters in a wheelchair like us and have fun.

Amelia, who is into gymnastics, arts and crafts, and George, who loves football and sport, say:

“We get really excited when our parcel gets delivered for the next session. The Christmas session has been our favourite so far – we got to make so much stuff. The sand jars were fun too.”

Their mum Jen says: “George and Amelia have loved being involved in the Sibling Group. They even chose to attend the Christmas session over a school activity.

They proudly tell their friends about the sessions and how they get to talk about emotions, and they love that they get to talk with other children that have a sibling using a wheelchair.

"They feel included when sometimes before it was activities for Sam and then activities for them. Now they see Whizz-Kidz as being for all of them."

Sam, 18, also gets a lot out of Whizz-Kidz, as he attends online sessions and Sunday clubs in Manchester and has used the wheelchair skills in school programme.

Sam says, “My favourite thing about Whizz-Kidz is that I can join in with all the activities. Everything is accessible. Attending the sessions has made me feel more confident to try new activities and talk with other people I don’t know. As Whizz-Kid has influenced me to try new activities and attend activities without my mum or PA, I hope to finish college and learn to do more things by myself.”

The sibling group has helped the family as a whole. Jen says: “We love that Whizz Kidz activities are so inclusive and accessible. The online sessions have been amazing and certainly benefitted us as a family.

As parents, it's lovely to see the enjoyment all the children get from the sessions and how much they all look forward to them.

Sophie is launching a new Whizz-Kidz Sibling Group for young people aged 11-15. But her ultimate goal is to “reach a point where we can offer support to all siblings of young wheelchair users.”

You'll find more information on Whizz-Kidz's Sibling Group here.

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