Having a sibling with a developmental disability is a uniquely challenging experience that few can understand. AHRC New York City’s Sibling Services offer a variety of ways for brothers and sisters to connect and help each other through professional assistance and peer support. On March 9th, AHRC NYC staff, leadership, families, and siblings gathered at India House in Lower Manhattan to support programs for brothers and sisters of those with disabilities and provide professionally guided opportunities for peer support and education. The night included raffles, silent auctions, food, and speeches from siblings, board members, and professionals.
Why We Celebrate
“When we were growing up, many of us felt very alone,” Ruth Pickholz, AHRC NYC Board Member and a sibling of a person with disabilities said. “We felt that we were the only ones and had no one to talk to. But now there is a place.”
Laura Kennedy, President of AHRC NYC and President of NYSARC, Inc., has a daughter with a developmental disability and stated that her first interactions with the agency were with the sibling committee. “I thought ‘Wow, this great agency really thinks about the siblings,‘” she said. “When AHRC NYC was founded 65 years ago, siblings were home, siblings were not included. But over time siblings and family members are now part of the leadership and advocates for our loved ones.”
Growing Up with a Sibling with a Disability
Three people supported by Sibling Services also shared their experiences. Patricia Wright has an older sister with autism. “What’s the number one question I get asked about my sister?” she said. “It’s ‘How do you live with a sibling with disabilities. It’s easy through the sibling support group.” Patricia has been attending the group since she was five years old. “I can honestly say that the sibling support group has become like family to me.” She said that she had raised money through her school for the event and that she plans to walk with friends at the upcoming Autism Speaks Walk NYC in May.
Gina and Donna Celentano also have a sister with autism, (who is also Donna’s twin). Each of them mentioned their early struggles with coping with their sister’s disability. “I wasn’t upset at her,” Gina said, “I was upset that she had a disability and I couldn’t do anything to help her.” Donna expressed a similar, heart-wrenching sentiment. “When I was younger I used to cry to my mother because I thought I gave her a disability,” she said. “Once I came to SibShops I learned that it wasn’t my fault,” Donna said that she learned activities to help her connect with her sister. Gina also spoke about how SibShops help her cope. “They taught me ways to share my emotions and that what I was going through is completely normal.“