“I thought [she] should know that what she was dealing with at home wasn’t what others experience,” said the mother. “I did it partly to protect [her brother]. I wanted [her] to know she couldn’t expect [him] to behave like other siblings. [She] never says much [about him], but she’s wise. I have no doubt she takes in the information and understands.”
Then-14-year-old Mel Givre understood right away that all was not normal when his sister, Rozie, who has Down syndrome, was born.
“Mel was old enough that he knew what was what,” recalled his mother, Elisheva Givre. “He came to see Rozie in the [neonatal intensive care unit], and he was crying, very upset. He worried she wouldn’t be able to get married and wouldn’t have a good life.”
Givre and her husband, Charles Givre, responded by encouraging their son to bond with the new baby. Today, said the mother, he adores his sister; the family’s middle child, 7-year-old Dovie, is still too young to notice how Rozie is different.
“They both go to the same school, and Rozie is in a regular class,” said Elisheva Givre. “So far, Dovie hasn’t had any negative experiences. God willing, it will stay this way.”
Professionals such as Band stress that the key to helping siblings is not only in keeping the lines of communication open, but also in helping them express themselves. Band tells the story of an 11-year-old girl in her practice who has a brother with disabilities.
The brother “had a meltdown in a public place and someone from her school was there,” said Band. The person went up to the girl and remarked that he “saw your brother screaming like a baby.”
“That’s because of his autism,” replied Band’s patient, giving strength to the psychologist’s argument that “knowledge is power. She needed the words.”
Sometimes, knowledge that a child is troubled by a sibling’s behavior develops over time. In the Hechts’ case, recognition of Emily’s concerns came gradually.
“Emily wasn’t the sort of child who would come and say, ‘I’m worried.’ It was subtle things we picked up on, little things,” said her mother, Beth Land Hecht. “She remembers when I would pick her up from friends’ houses and Daniel would be with me, and he’d just run into her friend’s house and start playing with toys. She was getting embarrassed and needed help explaining it to other people.”
In addition to feeling embarrassed about Daniel’s behavior, Emily was also concerned that he would be bullied by other children.
“I was worried about him, always anxious,” said Emily Hecht. “I’d think, ‘What if something happens to him. What if kids made fun of him, what if he got on the wrong bus? I had the kind of worries an older sibling would have about a younger one.”
Because of her brother’s special needs, Hecht said it is sometimes challenging to have a typical sibling relationship with him: “I do the best I can to relate to him, and it’s kind of an unspoken thing that we love each other.”
Locally, communal services include a variety of projects through the JCC, many of which are co-sponsored by Jewish Community Services and the Center for Jewish Education. Programs at the JCC include arts and crafts, social skills groups and City Hoppers, which takes young adults on special outings. In addition to counseling and case management, JCS provides programs such as supervised housing and career services, while the CJE offers Gesher L’Torah, a religious school for children with special needs, as well as programming for the deaf and blind.