The international 'SibShop' program is now in Milwaukee

NOW: The international ’SibShop’ program is now in Milwaukee

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- 'SibShops' have become widely popular across the nation and even on an international level. They're fun, informative workshops for siblings of children with special health and developmental needs, and Milwaukee just hosted its very first one.

"Most struggles you go through in life you can turn to a parent or a relative and you can get help but this was one where there was nobody," said Megan Kitze-Ward.

Kitze-Ward told CBS 58 it was about seven years ago, when she and her husband had their whole world change.

"You expect all these things, you know, you think they're going to go to school and be in some sort of club or sports teams and you'll be, you know, complaining on the sidelines of soccer games…as soon as your child is diagnosed with a special need that all goes out the window," she said with tears in her eyes.

They had to accept a reality they never thought would be theirs.

"I just remember crying a lot, it was, I mean, it was so hard on us, on our marriage on raising a kid," she added. "It was just like this pivotal moment for us because we had had no help and no one, when you're dealing with a kid with special needs there just aren't answers, you can't just call someone up."

Kitze-Ward said her youngest child, Max, was about three and a half when he got his life-changing diagnosis. But because she and her husband are both teachers, they noticed even earlier than that--something was off.

"He would always do this head moving thing…he also refused to sleep, like, more than a normal baby," she recalled. "He was delayed in walking, delayed in talking."

Scrambling for answers from doctors who would say Max passed enough screenings to the point where autism wasn't flagged.

"He loves eye contact, he loves to be touched, he loves to go to the Brewers games," Kitze-Ward said.

She recalls having a conversation with a schoolteacher she was friends with that changed her life.

"I'll just never forget this moment because she had a daughter with autism, and she grabbed my arm, and I could see tears in her eyes and she just said 'Megan it's autism,'" she said.

Navigating the news while also raising a then-six-year-old daughter was a lot juggle.

"We noticed right away that she was really struggling with how much attention her brother got, in the very beginning, we didn't have lot of answers," she explained.

In due time, she noticed her daughter Cali was acting out at school.

"I would do like all these crazy things to be the center of attention because, I don't know, it was fun for me, I liked it," Cali told CBS 58.

The now 13-year-old laughs about the times in third grade where she would make things up.

"One time, I faked, like, breaking my wrist or something and, like, I came to school with, like, duct tape on my, like, arm," she said.

Kitze-Ward said she soon came across an organization known as 'WisconSibs.'

"(I) noticed that they had a summer camp for kids, and they would go up to Door County for four days, they would stay in yurts and go kayaking and zip lining and swimming and hiking...I was like what is this magical thing?" Kitze-Ward said laughing.

In 2021, the family made a long drive to Appleton, the only location in Wisconsin that offered this international program where siblings of children with disabilities could share what their life is like at home.

"It's super fun and I remember, I would always forget that these people have siblings with disabilities," Cali said. "We have, like, group chats from, like, every single year."

Since then, Cali participated in several SibShops where kids ages 6 to 12 partake in open discussions and activities, making friends from all over the state.

"You share stuff if you want to, if you feel comfortable with it, it's mostly just about like bonding and like having fun," said Cali.

The teen expressed that her brother Max is a funny and goofy kid but it's often hard to connect with him because he is, what his family likes to call, 'non-conversational,' with a limited vocabulary of roughly 200 words.

"Sometimes I'm told like, 'you should probably, like, just space out cause…you don't want to overwhelm him' and sometimes that can be really annoying cause I'm like, 'oh, like, I want to hang out, I want to try," Cali went on to say.

The first-ever Milwaukee SibShop took place this month, on April 13, thanks to Kitze-Ward who was recently named the Milwaukee SibShop Coordinator.

"I think it's just a really powerful program experience," she said.

Kitze-Ward said it's important to have a safe space to share what a family can go through and know, you're not alone.

"My plan is going to be to hit every county to, like, rotate the Milwaukee counties so that we can hit as many areas and people as possible," she said.

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