Band of brothers and sisters

Little girl climbing up frame

Children who have a disabled sibling may have to learn to put their own needs on hold to some extent – but the Sense Siblings Weekend was just for them.When the children and young people arrive for the siblings’ weekend some look a little wary and there are even a few tears; others give barely a backward glance and get stuck right in away, rushing over to the painting activity and making instant new friends in the way that only children can.

They have all come away for a weekend of fun, friendship and adventure at a PGL centre near Swindon – and what they have in common is that they all have a brother or sister who has a disability. Having a sibling with special needs can be a mixed role, and whilst Sense’s experience is that many will grow up to be particularly kind, thoughtful and mature people – and love their disabled sibling to bits – they can face challenges too.

It may be, for example, that their brother or sister, needs a great deal of their parent’s time so they get less attention that they might have had. They might worry about the wellbeing of their sibling and feel a sense of responsibility about them. Some can feel isolated, and may even experience bullying, as they don’t know any other children with a disabled brother or sister.

So this weekend is very much about making them the centre of attention, where they can have loads of fun, try exciting and confidence-building activities and hang out with other children who have had similar experiences.

For the activities the children were divided into three age groups (five to seven, eight to eleven and twelve to fifteen); each supported by experienced staff and volunteers who kept a kind and careful eye on them.

There were loads of exciting activities on offer: the vertical climbing wall, canoeing, the trapeze, silk screen printing, marbling and raft building – not to mention games of tag, football kick-arounds and a campfire sing-along. There was also a lot of charging around!

There were so many special moments, but here are a few highlights:

On the Saturday morning, in beautiful spring sunshine, the youngest group of children headed off to the vertical climbing wall. As you can see from the photos, this was jolly high but it didn’t put the little ones off. After being carefully helped by the instructors to put on their harnesses and helmets, and being connected to a belay rope which ensured that they were completely safe at all times, the children climbed to the height they felt comfortable with – before gliding gracefully back to earth on the rope.

Young boy climbing up ropes with helmet on

In fact, amazingly, most of the children made it right to the top, including six-year-old Ted who wasn’t going to let it beat him. It must have seemed like a mountain to him! Another seven-year-old girl – who had been rather nervous about coming along to the weekend – shot right to top like a seasoned mountaineer. It was a great confidence builder.Meanwhile the children at the bottom cheered them on, gave shouts of encouragement and there were lots of high fives when the climbers came down, flushed and triumphant. The children were very supportive towards each other throughout the weekend, and the volunteers ensured that there was an inclusive and friendly atmosphere for all.

In another part of the grounds, the eight to twelve-year-olds were also taking on a high altitude challenge, climbing a tall telegraph pole and then leaping out to try to grab a trapeze swing above them. One boy got right to the top and shouted triumphantly “This is where I live from now on!”

“What a change from yesterday,” said one of the volunteers, “he was so nervous when he arrived, but look at him now!”

Group photo of boys and girls with paddles

Meanwhile, as some of the boys waited their turn, it was heartening to see them discovering an old-school activity to keep them amused – digging up worms and creating a muddy puddle for them to play in. It was great to see what kids will dream up to amuse themselves when they are not transfixed by a computer screen or phone.

In the afternoon, the older group – who were mostly teenage boys – went canoeing and there were challenges, races and some surreptitious splashing. There was plenty of joshing and witty banter between them but it was also noticeable how supportive they were of each other – and how kind and patient they were with the little ones. That evening there was a kick-around with the little ones charging after the big boys and putting in a few tasty tackles.

By the end of the weekend, the bond between them was plain to see and they really had become a band of brothers and sisters. They had overcome their fears, made new friends, climbed new heights, grown in confidence – and most importantly had a whole load of fun!

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