Support group helps siblings of disabled

Miss Georgia 2012 starts local version of national Sibling Support Project

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comOctober 17, 2012 

Savannah Godowns, a fifth-grader at Double Churches Elementary School, has something in common with a state pageant winner beyond her wildest dreams.

Leighton Jordan, the 2012 Miss Georgia, also has a sibling with special needs. And thanks to Jordan starting a local version of the national Sibling Support Project during a gathering Wednesday at Easter Seals West Georgia, Savannah has a constructive outlet to express her feelings.

"It helps me feel like I'm not alone," said Savannah, 10. "It made me feel like I didn't just meet Miss Georgia today. I feel like we've been friends for a long time."

Easter Seals offers therapeutic day programs for adults and children with disabilities. The local chapter has about 150 clients, and this sibling project will expand its impact, said the facility's executive director, Sharon Borger.

"It always is very difficult for the brothers and sisters because the children with disabilities normally demand so much of their parents' attention," Borger said. "With Leighton having that platform, it really opens it up for us to have this program. She can bring a perspective that I can't."

Jordan, 19, from Suwanee, Ga., has a 21-year-old brother, Robin, who is deaf, has cerebral palsy, brain damage, epilepsy and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

"Most people are aware of the trials that people with special needs face, but they are unaware of the trials that their siblings face," Jordan said. "So it is my primary goal and ultimate dream to spread awareness of this organization."

Jordan wished she had such a program to help her as she grew up.

"It really lets them know that the feelings of guilt or anger that come along with being a sibling that it's OK, but, at the same time, you need to voice those feelings to get them off your chest," she said.

Jordan did that Wednesday by starting her talk with the children by declaring, "We all have one thing in common."

One girl filled in the blank: "Our siblings have some problems."

Then Jordan concluded: "And that causes us some problems."

Jordan passed around her Miss Georgia crown. As each child held it, they introduced themselves and described their sibling's disability.

"Raise your hand if you've ever been angry at your sibling," Jordan said.

When all the children raised their hands, Jordan told them that's how she felt and that it is OK to admit it.

After a few ice-breaker games, Jordan sat on the floor with the children and asked them to share one thing they are good at and one thing they are bad at. Then they shared the good and bad about their siblings.

One girl said, "My brother is good at giving hugs. He's not so good at cleaning up."

Jordan added, "That's typical. My brother is the same way."

"When you have friends over and your sibling screams, what do you do?" Jordan asked.

One boy responded, "Well, we usually don't have friends over."

"I was the same way," Jordan said.

Jordan also asked the children what they wish their friends could understand about their sibling.

One girl said, "I wish they knew why she babbles all the time, that she's really trying to talk."

Jordan said, "I always wanted to talk for my brother, but my mother kept reminding me that he could use sign language."

Jordan finished the session by encouraging the children to be friends with their sibling, especially as they grow older and perhaps more isolated. She gave the parents a list of websites that could help their families further.

Lakisha Taylor, the program director for the local Easter Seals, hopes the project will attract enough interest to conduct more sessions.

"We would love to continue this as an ongoing group," she said. "It's something that we're looking at. It really goes with our mission, to support our families."

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