As a parent to a child with special needs, one of the best things you can do for yourself and your child is to join a support group. I know your time is valuable, and taking even one hour out of your day can feel overwhelming. But that hour can be an investment that will bring you back many hours of time you’ve spent searching for answers or navigating alone.
I know some of the reasons that stop you besides time. “Who will be there? What if I don’t feel comfortable? What if my kid has a crisis and I have to leave?” I assure you, this is a group of people who get you. And if you don’t feel comfortable, the great thing is that you can just log out. No one will judge you.
Here are some reasons to consider for joining a support group:
- Schools, Teachers, and IEPs...OH MY.
A support group will likely be people who likely live in the same community and neighborhood. This is helpful because there are other families who have shared experiences about making decisions for their child’s education. This includes making decisions about special education classes, requesting additional school support and educational assistants.
- What Do You Know About….And other things most people never consider...
Everyone is always looking for a good doctor, dentist, therapy programs, recreational programs, and summer camps. Where can you get a good haircut for your child? What about asking each other about what they have heard and experienced about medications and special diets? How do you find a reliable source of childcare, tutoring, transportation?
- How Did You Figure Out How to Get That?
Speak with other parents about the strategies and the wording that they used to access certain services, funding, and programs. While it would be nice if services were available to everyone equally, this is not so in reality. Are there keywords or ways of requesting services?
- Strength in Numbers… Collaboration Counts for Something.
Parents often share that it can be difficult and intimidating to influence changes in programs and services. However, if families come together and are all voicing concerns and feedback together, this can help to get the attention of decision-makers. Many of the changes of programs and legislation have come from parent advocates.
- Sounding Board and Absorbing Sponge.
Outside of your family unit, other parents in a support group can be a sounding board for you to talk through key decisions or ideas that you want to try with your child. Other parents may be able to help you give input about what to do. They can problem-solve with you. You can come away with ideas you never thought of.
- Understanding Without a Monologue of Explanation.
Some parents will share that connecting with other parents of children with special needs is a huge area of support. Whether your families and friends are supportive or not, sometimes it is nice to connect with people who live in similar circumstances, because they know because they have lived it and you don’t need to explain it.
- Let’s Go Play...Let’s Make Friends.
In support groups, there is a possibility that you will meet other families who have children with similar interests. It can be a lot easier to set up family outings and play dates with another child with similar needs and adults who are comfortable with being around you and your child. There is less reason to feel self-conscious or worried about how your child will do in a social situation.
- Online and Expand Your Universe.
Now more than ever, families are finding support groups online through Facebook, Twitter, chat groups, and blogs (just like this one). This is one of the fastest ways information gets shared and effective if time, travel, and child care can be a challenge.
- OMG, You Like to Watch This is Us Too?
Outside of supporting each other and advocating for your children, you may discover that you have more in common especially on a social level. Sometimes it’s just nice to make new friends. It’s always wonderful to find out how much alike we are, and all we have to share.
- Your Story is Someone Else’s Road Map.
Whether you realize it or not, the experiences that you have had will be helpful to someone else. Sharing your story gives hope, insight, tips, and encouragement to others. What you have gotten through could be just the struggle that another parent is facing right now.
Support groups can be rich in information that can be helpful for you while raising a child with special needs. You can learn from the experiences of parents who have been there before. There are opportunities for emotional and social support for you and your child. At BPI, we currently have three opportunities to join an online group, but we are always willing to have more. If there is a specific time that you’d like to suggest we add, please let us know. You can find a list of our current meetings in the link above.
Joy is originally from the Central Valley of California, where she was raised on a farm and discovered her love for growing things. As the mother of a blended family of 7 adults and the grandmother of 9, she's learned many lessons about supporting the growth of people.