Having a child with special needs is tough on a family. It is particularly hard on the siblings of the child who, at times, must cope with the disproportionate amount of attention a parent must give to care for their sibling.
The Bus Stop Club, a Guilderland-based not-for-profit organization, hopes to provide siblings of children with special needs an environment in which they can express themselves and interact with peers that understand where they are coming from.
Dr. Brian Sheridan, a pediatrician in the Town of Guilderland, began the Bus Stop Club as an advocacy project four years ago when he was a resident at Albany Medical Center.
We really got these kids together to express their feelings, said Sheridan. `They could listen to other kids so they didn’t have to feel all alone.`
He said the club meets monthly at the Guilderland YMCA and the East Greenbush YMCA. The program has eight volunteers, five of whom are professionals, including social workers and doctors, who can help the children cope with their situation.
`The kids will come in, eat pizza, do arts and crafts, and just talk,` said Sheridan.
He said afterward, the children usually take advantage of the YMCA’s facilities and play basketball or go swimming.
Sheridan said that it is often the case that siblings of wheelchair-bound children do not have the same opportunities as other children.
`For a lot of these kids, it’s a chance to get out and do something, something they normally don’t get to do,` he said.
Currently, the Bus Stop Club serves 25 families, and in addition to the monthly meetings at the two YMCAs, the group attends Siena and SUNY Albany basketball games, visits Six Flags in the summer, and, according to Sheridan, the club is planning a camp for the kids this summer.
`We became a not-for-profit about one year ago,` said Sheridan. `Since then we raised about $14,000.`
Most recently, the club received a $5,000 donation from the New York Life insurance company, which it was presented with during halftime at a Tuesday, Dec. 29, Siena Saints basketball game.
Dena Ackerman, whose 13-year-old daughter, Courtney, attends the Bus Stop Club, said the club has provided a way for her daughter to cope with the disproportionate amount of attention given to her younger brother, Kyle, who was diagnosed with Type One diabetes.
`It gives her a chance to just have an outlet and opportunity to talk to people in the same boat as she is,` said Ackerman.
`The main focus is to have her voice the stresses she feels. With Kyle’s disease a lot of times the focus is on him,` said Ackerman. `She definitely comes home and sees she is not the only one with the experiences she has in every day life.`
Dena said that Courtney gains perspective by talking with the other children in the club.
`In some ways it makes her appreciate that she doesn’t have it as bad as others,` she said.
Sheridan said that he hopes to expand the club into the City of Albany, and Clifton Park in the coming year.
`In the Capital District, there are about 25,000 children listed as mentally or physically disabled,` he said.
According to Sheridan, that means there are from 25,000 to 50,000 siblings that could benefit from the Bus Stop Club.