Siblings of those with disabilities tackle life, fun in tandem
By Rita Price
Barb Sapharas listened to the coaching that ensued and smiled. Each set of swing partners were siblings, one with a lifelong disability and one without, ready again to laugh and love each other through something scary.
“Pretty cool,” said Sapharas, board chairman of Ohio SIBS, an organization for adult siblings of people with developmental disabilities and their families.
SIBS members and staff from Ohio State University’s Nisonger Center on Disabilities hosted a retreat for the sibling pairs over the weekend at YMCA Camp Willson, home of the giant swing.
See more photos from the Ohio SIBS retreat
Tom Fish, director of social work and family support services at Nisonger, said the retreat is the only one in the nation that mixes fun with a focus on transition, teaching the typical siblings how they can best help their brothers and sisters make the transition to adult services, employment and independent living.
“Those things will determine the rest of her life — her happiness,” said Michelle Long, whose 17-year-old sister, Julia Truby, has Down syndrome. “I want to influence that.”
The brothers and sisters of people with disabilities don’t often participate in early planning and service arrangement, Sapharas said, then face a steep learning curve if they inherit responsibility after parents pass away. Better to keep everyone in the fold from the beginning, she said.
“Siblings are the longest relationships in life,” she said. “I like to say we’re the first friend and the first playmate, although maybe not by choice. We’re the first tormenters. And probably their first advocates.”
Paige and Hanna McCaslin, 17-year-old twins, tackled the giant swing the same way they approach lots of tasks — with hands clasped. Hanna has autism; Paige does not.
“We’re still the other half of each other,” Paige said. “We’re super, super tight. Without her, I’d be crushed.”
Paige has seen and heard her share of not-so-nice teens who pick on people who are different. Because of Hanna, she could never be one of them.
“Without her, I might be that person,” Paige said. “She makes me better.”
Anthony Cummerlander, 19, told his sister to take a picture of him before he got on the swing and send it to their mom. He felt that he was doing a very “Gonzo” thing, a reference to the beloved Muppet character tucked in his jacket.
Lauren Cummerlander, 22, enjoyed their swing session. “It’s kind of like being shot out of a cannon, I think,” she said.
But she was grateful for the retreat’s serious side and the chance to talk in depth about how she and other typical siblings can help chart futures. “You know it’s coming someday,” Lauren said of her role.
Oftentimes, of course, the siblings with disabilities need no help at all. Tables turn.
“Kyle!” yelled his sister, Alison McKay, as she was strapped into the harness for the swing. “ Why are you making me do this?”
“Because,” said Kyle, who has Down syndrome. “It’s good for you.”
Link to Articlehttp://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2013/04/08/some-siblings-tackle-life-fun-in-tandem.html