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Families of People with Disabilities Get Support in MT


Thursday, February 4, 2021   

HELENA, Mont. -- Families with people who have disabilities can sometimes feel isolated because of their experiences.

Siblings of people with physical, developmental or mental-health diagnoses especially have unique experiences, which include challenges and rewards.

Abbey Guza, a licensed clinical social worker who hosts "SibShops," which provide support for Montana families who have a child with a disability, said siblings sometimes feel as if some of their parents' attention is pulled away from them, but ultimately they're resilient.

"They're really proud of their ability to help that brother or sister out," Guza observed. "And I see a lot of kids who have a really incredible amount of knowledge, often times well beyond their years, about what their sibling with a disability needs."

Guza noted families can feel alienated and are even more isolated than usual because of COVID-19.

While her SibShops can't happen in person, Guza will host three virtual sessions with families over the next month, starting with a session for parents and caregivers on Feb. 22.

Grace Lee Banna, whose older sister has a neurodevelopmental disability that has slowed her capacity for picking up new skills, said there are ups and downs with her sister.

"I've learned to be more willing to help even though at first I did not want to help at all," Banna acknowledged. "But the other half of it is honestly kind of fun to be able to try new things with her and be able to teach others about her, like my friends or anyone that comes across her."

Jen Banna, Grace Lee's mother, is coordinator for the Montana Family to Family Health Information Center, based at the Rural Institute for Inclusive Communities, which helps families navigate health care and also help providers, state agencies and lawmakers understand the needs of families who have children with special needs.

"We believe that the health of the family, including the mental health, is improved when we provide resources that help families cope better with the special conditions that their kids have," Banna explained.

The deadline to register for Guza's SibShop, which is hosted by the Montana Family to Family Health Information Center, is Monday.

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