Finding Support for Parents of Children with Disabilities

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

The words were still ringing in the young mother’s ears and she struggled to listen to what else the psychologist was telling her. Despite her best efforts, she could not stop hearing the word “autism”.

All at once, many of the mother’s dreams for her child were cast in doubt. Milestones that most parents took for granted might now never occur such as learning how to write, graduating from high school, getting his driver’s license, and being able to go out on dates.

After the meeting with the psychologist, the mother headed despondently home. She felt lost and alone. There seemed to be nowhere to turn as none of her friends had a child with a disability. The mother didn’t even know how to bring up the issue as her friends’ children all seemed to be doing so well.

Fortunately for this mother and other parents of children who have disabilities, there are resources available to help them deal with the unique challenges that children with disabilities present. While professionals can provide good recommendations of resources, there are certain questions that only other parents with special needs children can address.

Special-needs communities can be one of the best places to find parents who are facing similar issues. A quick internet search is a good starting place to find support groups that are available both online and in-person. This can include non-profit organizations, Facebook pages, and local listservs. While parents may not find a perfect fit with the first support group they try, group members can often provide suggestions for other groups that might provide a better fit for the family’s needs.

Once parents have found a group that fits their needs, they will find some comfort in being around other parents who are going through similar experiences. These parents can be a great resource for books and articles related to a child’s disorder, playgroups and camps that cater to children with disabilities, and even marriage counselors who specialize in providing therapy for couples who have a special needs child. If any groups provide recommendations for particular treatments, parents should check these out with a professional, as there are many ineffective and even harmful treatments that are promoted in groups.

Another advantage of joining a group is the support it can provide parents. Parents can form close bonds with other parents in the group which allows them to feel they are not alone. This level of comfort and support can also allow parents to feel comfortable in venting their frustrations since other members have likely felt the same way at some point.

The group will also allow parents to share triumphs along the way. While having a child talk for the first time is something most parents remember, it pales in comparison to a child who has had six years of speech therapy to get to that point. It can be tempting for parents in these groups to compare their children with the progress of others in the group. It is important to remember that all children develop at their own pace and each will improve at the pace they were meant to.

Finally, these parent support groups can provide a place for parents to socialize and form lasting friendships. Many parents who have children with disabilities can feel isolated. Whereas parents of typically developing children often meet other adults through their children’s sports teams or birthday parties, parents of children with special needs often do not have those opportunities. The support groups can be a place to have normal, adult conversations and form powerful friendships.

Parents who have children with disabilities can often feel lost and isolated when they first hear a diagnosis. While professionals can help with resources, support groups for parents with special needs children can provide benefits that help with the day to day challenge of raising a child with a disability.

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Friday on January 8, 2016.

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