WILSON’S LOCAL PRINT AND DIGITAL COMMUNITY INSTITUTION SINCE 1896

Special needs, special sidekicks: Program forges friendships despite differences in kids' abilities

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When Hunter Peebles read a particular social media post last month, it stirred something within her. A mother shared what her special-needs daughter had endured recently.

Peebles, owner of Hunter’s Dance Studio, knows what it’s like to raise a daughter with special needs. Her daughter, Caramy, who is now 23, was diagnosed at a young age with Kabuki syndrome and has had to deal with medical and developmental delays herself.

Peebles reached out to the mother to offer support.

“I commented by telling her Caramy would be glad to come spend time with her,” Peebles recalled, adding that Caramy got to know the woman’s daughter years ago when she took dance class.

“Please tell Caramy she needs a friend,” the mother replied to Peebles.

That comment alone inspired Peebles to start a movement in Wilson with the help of several other moms who have children with special needs.

And within several days, “Sidekix” was born — a program aimed to bring children with special needs or disabilities together with typical-developing children in an effort to spend time together and develop friendships that will last a lifetime.

“For children with special needs or disabilities, the need for a friend or a sidekick is just as strong as for the typical-developing child,” Peebles said. “Rather than separate these two types of children, we want them to start to include each other and learn from each other.”

SIDEKIX EVENTS

Last week, Sidekix kicked off its first of five summer events where special-needs children and typical-developing children meet and spend time together. Dozens headed out to watch a movie together at AMC Classic Wilson.

This Saturday, Hunter’s Dance Studio will host the second Sidekix event, “Tumble and Creative Movement,” from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m.. The event is free. Peebles encourages children with special needs and typical-developing children to attend.

Over the next few months, the group will have participants fill out a form so organizers can create a friend-matching database during the fall. Peebles said Sidekix plans to have at least two to three events each month.

She said the group also wants to eventually have each friend to spend time with each other outside of the group events.

“A text, a phone call, a trip to get a snow cone, a play date with the understanding that it might be a different type of play date, or a trip to the park,” Peebles said.

FRIENDSHIPS AND INCLUSION

Peebles said her own daughter has been fortunate to have many friends through the dance studio. But most of Peebles’ friends whose children have special needs or disabilities don’t. And together, Peebles and others hope to change this.

“A lot of these children are picked on and bullied in public situations,” Peebles said. “Some moms say these children have a hard time watching siblings doing things with friends and being left out.”

Peebles said the other important role of Sidekix is to provide a support system to families who have children with special needs.

“We want the parents to make friends, too, because they need close friendship just as much or more than their children,” Peebles said.

VALUABLE RELATIONSHIPS

Taran Dunn said when Peebles approached her about starting the Sidekix program, she knew she wanted to get on board. Dunn’s 3-year-old son, Wyatt, was recently diagnosed with autism.

“Our community is behind when it comes to things for these precious kids and I knew it would fill a void,” Dunn said. “We hit the ground running.”

She said their first social media post about Sidekix was seen by more than 6,000 people in the first 24 hours, which showed her a tremendous interest in the program.

“For me, as the mom to a toddler with autism, I think being around other parents traversing similar paths is as valuable as the relationships children will form within Sidekix and the experiences we all will share,” she said.

Dunn said the lessons in compassion and patience are invaluable for typical-developing children as well.

Brenda Whaley, whose 8-year-old son, Jackson, has cerebral palsy, said all children are born to stand out and Sidekix offers that opportunity to bring children and adults together.

“To realize we are all the same,” Whaley said. “Some people just need a little extra care.”

Whaley said as a mother, she believes Sidekix will provide a network, build relationships and provide advice and assistance.

“For many, being in a family that involves special needs can be lonely,” she said. “I believe Sidekix will help with this also. I can see much happiness and many friendships coming from Sidekix.”

BRIDGING THE GAP

Peebles said many other partnerships are in the works. She’s also enlisted her daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Peebles, who holds a degree in special education.

“Just because we might look or act differently than others doesn’t mean we do not have similarities,” Elizabeth Peebles said. “At the end of the day, everyone needs and wants someone to call a friend. My hopes for this program is that we will be able to help bridge the gap and break down barriers between normally developing children and children with special needs.”

Peebles said she’s grateful to all the businesses that have helped so far in planning the summer events. She anticipates others will follow as the program grows in the upcoming months.

For more information about Sidekix or how you or your child can get involved, contact the group at 252-237-0024, visit its website at sidekixfriends.com or find the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/sidekixwilson.

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