Children who have siblings with serious health challenges often find that their lives are hugely impacted.
Coping with an illness in the family can often lead to siblings having to adopt a caregiving role and therefore many miss out on critical areas of childhood development, such as socialising with other children. They can also experience emotional pain, isolation, sadness, anxiety, and even guilt, as a result of a sibling’s illness.
At Over The Wall, we provide camps specifically for the siblings of children with serious health challenges, allowing them to meet new friends, accomplish new challenges and above all, have fun. Our Therapeutic Recreation programme has proven to increase the self-esteem, confidence and resilience of not only the child with the illness, but also their siblings.
Alex has a rare genetic neurological disorder called Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia- (HSP), which impacts his mobility and motor skills. Unable to walk unaided, Alex requires either a walking frame or wheelchair, but this doesn’t get in the way of what he wants to do- which is why Over The Wall camp has become so important to him.
Now 12 years old, Alex has attended two of Over The Wall’s camps, whilst his 9 year old sister, Charlotte, has also experienced Over The Wall’s camps for siblings.
“Camp reiterates to Alex that he can do all the things he wants to do, as well as try new challenges”, explains Alex’s mum, Sam Medley. “The beauty of camp is that the children aren’t defined by their health challenges, they simply see each other as friends and people they can have fun with. There are no health-related labels, and that is so important.”
Prior to his Over The Wall experience, Alex had struggled at school. He was lacking confidence and hadn’t made many friends, which had begun to worry Sam. He was also about to make the transition from attending a village school of 60 pupils to a larger primary school with over 400, which was another cause for concern.
“Then, after Alex first attended camp in the summer, everything changed.” said Sam. “He started his new school, was confident, had higher self-esteem and made new friends. The difference in him was amazing. I honestly think that Over The Wall camp really helped him to make this transition and to develop his confidence.”
Confidence in camp-care
Alex has a titanium pump implanted into his abdomen that drip feeds medication onto his spinal cord. An under/overdose of this medication could cause huge complications that could even result in fatality, therefore absolute assurance that Alex was in capable hands was critical.
“When I met the clinical volunteers and I saw the medical environment that Over The Wall were providing- I immediately felt fine. After talking to the staff and seeing the work and preparation they had put in- I felt confident that both of my children were going to be well looked after. I lasted two-and-a-half days before I actually text the team to see if Alex was okay- and he was of course, absolutely fine!”
“From being met at the gates to saying goodbye at the end of the week, the quality and dedication of all the volunteers shone through for Charlotte and Alex. The volunteers made the week the best they possibly could for every young person at camp.”
Before his second camp experience Alex had surgery on his legs and had to recover from this before attending. The target of making full recovery before camp acted as inspiration and motivation for him to be well and mobile enough to attend.
Seeing her brother go into hospital and battle with HSP, has always been upsetting for Charlotte, so attending camp provided a great new way for her to have fun, be herself and meet other siblings of children with health challenges.
Last year Charlotte was the youngest at sibling camp at just 8 years-old, but this didn’t faze her at all. “Being at camp allows people and their siblings to fly! It makes you feel so special.” Charlotte explains, “We did swimming, archery, dancing, face painting, wore costumes and even did a talent show. I sang ‘Hold back the river’ with my friend Casey. I felt free and safe – and so happy. You meet all the same types of people as yourself. It makes you feel like you aren’t strange or the odd one out.”
After camp is over the children share their experiences, achievements and take home details and examples of their own personal strengths. “As a parent it is a wonderful feeling when the children bring home the feedback from camp that demonstrates their achievements.” says Sam. “The volunteers really bolster their confidence – and reading all of this really boosts you as a parent, as you think, we really are doing alright!”