Brief Description of Session Topics

Session 1. Life in My Family.  This session builds trust and safety in the group by recognizing the unique experiences and needs of every family.  It provides an introduction to the S.N.I.F.F. Sibling Support workshop model and to the experiences of siblings and other family members living with a child with extra needs.

Session 2. My Feelings. Often, siblings of children with special needs do not express their feelings because they don’t fully understand what it is that they feel, and they do not want to be a burden to their parents.  The feelings that they do have are often “mixed feelings” where they experience their feelings as sets of conflicting feelings at the same time, e.g., feeling both protective and resentful, or feeling proud of and embarrassed by their sibling.  This evening explores literature on attachment theory, and the use of validation in the home to help make feelings safer. 

Session 3. What’s my Role?  Siblings of children with special needs are often given more care-giving demands and responsibilities than others (especially girls). Research shows that the more responsibility these children assume, the less they tend to participate in their own activities outside of the home, and the more conflict and rivalry is found towards their siblings who have the disability. But being “over-responsible” is only one of the roles often played by siblings of children with special needs.  Tonight’s topic helps all family members explore the hidden roles they may unknowingly be playing, and empowers them to strike a better balance. 

Session 4. Family dynamics.    Every family has certain ways of interacting that (more or less) work for them. When the family includes a person with a disability, those dynamics are even more unique.  Research suggests that there are a number of positive impacts on the functioning of a family from having a child with special needs.  In other words, families with a child with a disability often have their own unique profile of strengths and weaknesses.  Tonight’s session explores how individual family member roles COMBINE to create the unique dynamics that form a family.  Individual constellations based on Commitment, Cohesion, Communication, Competence, Coping, and Advocacy will be explored helping all to better understand their what makes their family special.

Session 5. Hopes and Fears.  Tonight’s topic is really about “Mental Models”, our basic beliefs we hold about our world and about how well we are doing getting through it.  Two ends of this continuum are “Fears” and “Hopes”.  These two experiences, and many others, shape and colour our outlook on life; and they can have a strong influence over how we react to things.  This session explores the often ‘hidden’ mental models that we all hold, while helping participants to free themselves from previous hope and fears, so that a new balance of aspirations can be pursued.  Search Institutes “40 developmental assets” will be explored in this context. 

Session 6. Do I have it to?  If last week’s topic was about how we see our world, then tonight’s topic is really about how we see ourselves; this is IDENTITY.  Identity is made up of all the things that you believe to be true about yourself: good Vs. bad, strengths vs. weaknesses, likes and dislikes, talents, interests, groups that you belong to, things you do, things you own, and on and on.  Just like our outlook on the world, our identity can have a strong influence over how we react to things in our world.  Gentle group activities and discussions trigger insight and improved self-awareness. 

Session 7. About My Sibling’s Disabilities.  Most of the literature on supporting siblings of children with disabilities emphasizes the importance of a thorough understanding of the disability. This, in itself, reduces anxiety and fears.  However, in addition to the mere knowledge, families that are skilful in TALKING about each person’s needs, such as the things they want to know or how they feel, are generally more successful than families who lack these communication skills.  Tonight’s topic explores how parents can encourage and facilitate this awareness in their siblings, without adding to their burden of responsibility. 

Session 8. Helping Others Understand.  In prior generations, families supporting children with disabilities often became isolated (interacting within a relatively small social network) or became paralysed by shame and embarrassment when talking about their family with others.  While this trend is changing, many people today still struggle with the “all encompassing” nature of childhood disabilities.  As the closing session of SNIFF, tonight’s topic explores how siblings and parents can “LOOK BEYOND” not only their immediate social spheres, but also their self-imposed limitations on how they perceive and describe their experience of family.