Although it is natural to focus on the child with special needs, often other family members are overlooked. Part of Shalva’s ethos is that it is extremely important to support all members of the family. For that reason, various departments in Shalva have recently had events for members of the extended family.

Grandmothers of our preschool children recently enjoyed a series of five get-togethers. They were able to share their feelings and thoughts about having a grandchild with Down syndrome, their fears for the future, and how they fit this special child into their relationship with their other grandchildren. The group were privileged to hear talks by Dr. Ariel Tenenbaum, head of Hadassah Hospital’s Down Syndrome clinic, Tova Berkowitz, director of Shalva’s speech therapy programs, and Rachel Navon, occupational therapist in the Me and My Mommy program. Both the information they received and the support they gave each other were empowering.

Another group that benefited from Shalva were the fathers. This new weekly group, Me and my Dad, provided both practical information and an outlet for emotions not always expressed. Each session began with discussions, and then continued in the Shalva gym, where a lively game of basketball allowed them to release some of their tensions. The fathers shared their parenting issues and their concern for their child after they were gone. They shared the joy and comfort that they derived from these children as well. Meeting and sharing with other fathers facing similar challenges gave them strength and support.

Last, but certainly not least, the older brothers and sisters had their opportunity to share and encourage. Six siblings of children in our communication preschool met for a Fun Morning at Shalva. They had a tour and learned about Shalva, and they shared with each other what life was like for them to be part of a special family. Many felt an additional sense of responsibility towards their sibling, and a tacit understanding that his needs preceded theirs. The brothers and sisters then were introduced to the Snoezelen room at Shalva, where through guided imagery they learned to relax and explore their inner selves. An art project and a meal at the café rounded off this very special morning.