When you’re a parent, the list of questions you ask yourself on any given day is endless. Who is taking the kids to soccer practice? What about homework? And so on. But when you’re the parent of a child with special needs that list can get more complex. Is this day care going to be the right fit? Is my child receiving the right supports in school? Should we change her IEP? It’s easy to quickly feel overwhelmed and at times maybe even isolated. Fortunately, you are not! As an Agency Summit DD is here to be your partner, yet, sometimes there is nothing quite like sharing experiences with someone going through exactly the same thing. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of the ways that you can connect with parents like you and strengthen your circle of support.
“Everything I’ve ever learned about my child with special needs is from other parents,” said Laurie Cramer, Executive Director of the Autism Society of Greater Akron. Her sentiment is also expressed by many parents of children with special needs. “It’s so important. You learn so much from other parents. They have been through it, so why reinvent the wheel?” The Autism Society is one of many organizations that offers opportunities for parents to connect. One example is a peer-to-peer led group called “Coffee, Tea and Autism” where parents get to dictate what they want to discuss each meeting. Laurie stressed how important the emotional support can be, having someone who understands with no judgements what the bad days feel like and that there’s no need to explain, there’s just support. “It’s [being with] people who can finish your sentence,” she added.
However, it’s not simply learning about good preschools and better diet plans for your child. These groups can also be a place to simply unwind. Tina Overturf, Senior Manager of Children’s Services at Summit DD, noted the value of connecting with parents on a human level saying, “It’s important to be around people that see you’re more than just a parent of a child with special needs, someone who sees you as a person.” Check out the list below of a few local groups and see if any catch your attention!
ARC of Summit and Portage Counties
Child Guidance & Family Solutions
Peak Potential Therapy
VIP Power Kids
Akron Children’s Hospital Parent Mentor Program
Akron Children’s Hospital Camps for Kids with Special Needs
Coffee Tea & Autism
Networking & Events
Networking opportunities with parents don’t only happen within small support groups. There are many other larger events, like the The Upside of Downs Buddy Walk, Akron Rotary Club Chili Open and Autism 5K & Walk, to name a few, that are a mecca of parental meet and greets. Think it’s difficult to find a couple parents to share your thoughts with? Imagine being surrounded by hundreds of like-minded parents all on the same day! “It’s like one big group hug,” said Laurie of her experience. When you participate in events like these you’re not only contributing to the successes of those partners but are setting yourself up to form lifelong friendships. “All of my best friends I have met through Autism,” she concluded. Below are a few of many local events worth checking out.
Autism Society of Greater Akron’s 5K & Walk
The Upside of Downs Buddy Walk
March of Dimes
Akron Rotary Club Chili Open
Hattie Larlham’s Over the Edge
UDS All Star Jam
Hattie Larlham’s Sugar Bush Golf Classic
Autism Speak’s Walk Now
Don’t have time to go to parent groups? There are a variety of online resources where you can chat with parents any time, day or night, and gain valuable ideas along with hearing the intimate experiences of someone’s life whom you’ve never even met. “Technology has changed the game,” said Tina. “It’s what’s there at 3:00 in the morning and you can’t sleep.” she added. “It provides the environment to realize you are not alone in the times you feel like no one can possibly know what you’re going through,” she continued. “If you’re looking for something, you will find it.”
These groups can also be an amazing place for parents to see how much support there is out there even from parents without children with special needs. “Every time I click my finger, I’m saying I am an ally,” added Tina.
Some local blogs include Jen Towell’s blog, Cowgirl Up!, a chronical of “Super Joe,” her charming and adorable son who happens to have Down Syndrome. Check out the list below of other popular blogs and social media outlets full of daily inspiration.
Special Needs Mom
Mom – Not Otherwise Specified
Support for Special Needs
Love that Max
Mommies of Miracles
Casey and Connor
Life with Greyson + Parker
Adults with Cerebral Palsy Advising Parents of Kids With CP
International Down Syndrome Coalition
The Up Side of Downs
ARC – Summit and Portage County
National Autism Association
Also check out this list of 40 must read blogs here.
Think Outside of the Box
Maybe there is no group out there that fits your exact needs, but there are most likely others who wish there were. So lastly, consider starting your own group! It can seem like a big undertaking but the experiences you’ll gain will be well worth the extra effort. “So many bloggers I know have said, ‘yes, the support is great, but I do it for me. I’m the one who truly benefits’,” said Tina. “Everybody has a story to tell. When you tell your story, it’s going to take you to another place. Don’t be afraid to tell your story.”
“Out there somewhere there’s always someone who knows more than you,” concluded Tina. “You don’t need to know everything, you just need to know someone who does.”