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Sibling Support Program: Living With Disabilities

January 9, 2014

It's no doubt children with autism and other disabilities require special attention, which often changes up the dynamic of an entire family.

But when so much focus is put on one child, it's important to consider how that impacts other children.

That's the goal of a Sibling Support Program being offered this month by the Virginia Institute of Autism and the City of Charlottesville's Parks and Recreation department.

The Betker family in Crozet knows what it's like. Thirteen-year-old Hailee has autism. Eleven-year-old Sammy doesn't.

"Hailee really requires 24/7 monitoring, watch, supervision, assistance. You've got to redirect her from things, and so that pretty much occupies one person's time the whole time," said their dad, Pete Betker.

That's a situation not all families have to adapt to.

"Sam used to get embarrassed with Hailee, like, 'Don't bring Hailee to dance or around my friends,"" said mom Colleen Betker.

The Betkers say it has gotten easier as the girls have gotten older, but Sammy's at a critical age.

"That's when they're starting -- around close to middle school -- where all the social pressures and things really start changing a lot," said Pete. "So I think it's kind of a good time to connect with some kids who are going through the same thing."

The Betkers say what some families might consider normal outings, like going to the movies or getting a bite to eat, can be a challenge.

"There are things that [Sammy] might miss out on that we can't do. The normal things. Family vacations aren't real easy, or simple things like going to the pool. We might go and have to leave five minutes later," said Pete.

"I just wanted to meet people like me who have...who can't do all the normal things and stuff," said Sammy.

The Sibling Support Program will offer kids like Sammy a chance to connect and relate with others who have a brother or sister with a disability.

"She'll realize that she's not the only person in the same situation. Maybe help them deal with it a little better," said Pete.

The program will take place January 25. It's open to all 10-to-14 year olds with siblings with autism or other disabilities. Organizers say it'll offer kids a fun, supportive environment that includes workshops and panel discussions.

To learn more about the Sibling Support Program, click HERE.

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