Baltimore conference to help siblings of people with developmental disabilities

DavisFamily43WThe MDSibs 2015 conference being held Oct. 17 in Baltimore is planned for families with special needs children just like the Davis family from Riva.

Of the five Davis children, two have special needs. Lillianne, 11, has a rare chromosomal disorder called 4q Deletion, and Adelia, 2, has mild cerebral palsy and developmental delays.

"Being a family with multiple children with disabilities causes us to be different than families with typically developing children," says mom Sara Davis. "They have challenges many kids their age don't have to address."

The Davis children are used to making sacrifices for the greater good of their family.

Victoria Davis, 13, had to give up a dream of singing with a prestigious chorus because her younger sisters need to go to therapy several times a week. And Nicholas Davis, 5, often has to do more chores than his 11-year-old sister.

MDSibs 2015 is being held for the first time to connect siblings of people with developmental disabilities and reach out to others interested in learning about and supporting sibling issues. It's being held at the Hilton Baltimore BWI Airport from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

"There is a clear desire for siblings of all ages to come together throughout the state to share experiences, network and access resources, and gain information to support the needs and challenges they face with their siblings with developmental disabilities," says Carolyn Chen, the sibling support coordinator for the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Council. "Sibling relationships are the longest-lasting family ties and hold a critical role in the long-term well-being, planning and support of a person with developmental disabilities."

The conference will have specialized programming for siblings of all ages — from children with young siblings with disabilities to adults making decisions for older siblings with disabilities. Opportunities will be provided to meet with attendees of the same age and place in their lives. Other stakeholders are also welcome to attend and learn more about sibling issues.

Sarah Davis has already signed up her older children for the conference. They often have to make sacrifices and have responsibilities other children don't have, she says. And more and more, they are aware of the differences between their family and others.

Sarah Davis says that Victoria often looks out for her 11-year-old sister, helping her get ready for school and facilitating friendships. And all of her typically developing kids are staunch advocates not only of their special needs siblings, but anyone with special needs.

"They have the ability to support and appreciate diversity because they have a diverse experience in the home," she says. "They have insight and maturity beyond their years."

This is definitely true of Victoria.

"Having a sibling with a disability should not be viewed as a challenge, but as a privilege," she wrote in an email. "That is because it gives you the gifts of compassion and awareness."
Angelina, 9, is looking forward to the conference.

"At MDSibs I hope to learn more about being a sibling to persons with developmental issues, meet other siblings and have fun," she wrote.

Registration for the conference is $50 for adults and $20 for children younger than 18. To sign up, visit mdsibs.com.

Click here for a list of area support groups.

Betsy Stein

Photo by Courtney Anton Photograpy.