The siblings of children with special needs see the world through different lenses than most children. They are the caretaker of their sibling, they are the caretaker to their mom and dad, they feel pressure to achieve great things and see their needs as second to the rest of the family. They have the longest relationship with that special sibling, that will last their lifetime, their responsibilities are forever.
As “Number 5“ of six children, in a family that has battled alcoholism and mental illness, I see through the same lenses as these kids. I felt as if I was a caretaker to my siblings and my parents. It was my job to be the best behaved, get the best grades, and stay out of trouble in order to not be a burden to anyone. And I felt my struggles and triumphs were secondary to everyone else’s.
I see the siblings. I see them as champions of their families. I see their need to succeed as to take care of their family. I see these wonderful children who are mini caretakers, and I want to take care of them. I want to make each one of them feel like they are #1, even if only for a short time. I want to share with them coping skills and introduce them to peers they can rely and lean on when they need it. I want to give them a breath, since the pressures of their family life can feel suffocating. I want to give them a time to just be and let it all hang out!
Sandy Feet Initiative has adopted the Sibshops model for facilitating programs for siblings. We take it one step further, we give the kids a coping skill; a special one for our team; the gift of the ocean.
The ocean is an incredible healing place, a place to be you, she has no judgment and no expectations, she forces you to be “in the moment”. We teach the siblings how to harness the “in the moment-ness" of the ocean for empowerment, peace, joy and freedom. The ocean tends to make our decisions and force our hand, creating an emptiness and a fullness at the same time!
Sandy Feet Initiative was born from my experiences while working with beach programs for children with special needs. Yes, the siblings are the ones running around or looking bored while they brothers or sisters are introduced to water time on boards. They may even come across as over protective of their atypical sibling. I noticed they sometimes looked “left out.” So, we created Sandy Feet Initiative, where we treat the siblings of children with special needs as Number 1!