The question had the boys at the table confused.
“What’s braiding?” Michael Seibel said.
Holly Inglish at Social Key was leading a group of children through an activity during a monthly program for siblings of children with disabilities. She took a section of Ellie Fogarty’s hair in her hand. She used her fingers to divide the hair into three sections, then started overlapping the sections with a flick of her wrists.
Social Key is part of Red Door Pediatrics, which works with children who have autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities. Part of Social Key’s services is to give the siblings of Red Door patients a chance to talk with other children who are experiencing the same things. These monthly events are called SibShop.
On a recent afternoon, the coat hook quickly filled up as parents and grandparents dropped children off. The children rushed up the stairs and started playing, until it was time for the activities to begin.
Inglish gathered the children at a table in the corner, that was surrounded by pint-size chairs. The afternoon’s theme was a luau, and she gave them each nametags shaped like waves. On each tag, the children wrote the Hawaiian equivalent of their names.
Then, they started on the worksheet that ranked how well they could perform about two dozen tasks. The boys marked the “never tried” column on their worksheets after Inglish’s braiding demonstration. The group of six children, all under 10 years old, considered about two dozen activities as they marked off a column indicating whether it’s easy, hard or impossible for them to do, or if they have not tried it.
After they checked off the boxes, the children each talked about what was easy and hard for them to do. Then, they considered what was easy or hard for their siblings. Some of the things their siblings are good at: reading, computers and taking pictures. Things that are harder for their siblings: writing, socializing and being in public. This is because many of their siblings have an autism spectrum disorder.
The SibShops have given Hannah an outlet to talk about her brother, Jacob, her mother Marcie Jahner-Felt said. The family moved to Bismarck from Minnesota specifically so Jacob could go to Red Door Pediatrics and Social Key, she said. It was an added bonus that they had something for Hannah, she said.
“I love it, because when we filled out the survey, she opened up for the first time,” Jahner-Felt said.
At 7, Hannah is one of the older children in the group. The SibShop programs are for children between 5 and 12 years old. She’s taken on a leadership role in the group, helping the other children solve problems, Inglish said.
Hannah likes meeting new people and doing the art projects, she said. The favorite activity of the group, though, is reading letters from “Dear Aunt Blabby.” Each time the group meets, they read anonymous letters asking for help with a problem that they might have with a sibling.
The letters on Tuesday asked for help on watching a movie at a theater when the child’s sibling can’t watch it without getting sick, how to get friends to accept a sibling with autism and what to do when people stare at sibling in a wheelchair.
Inglish helped brainstorm solutions with the children. For the child wanting to go to the movies, they considered watching movies at home or going to the theater with one parent. For the question about friends, they talked about telling the friends about what autism is and telling the friends what the sibling is good at doing.
For the question about people staring, the consensus was to ignore the people who stare.