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Support groups helps parents with special needs children

Richmond Register - 1/2/2018

Jan. 02--A new support group in Madison County is offering parents who have children with autism and other special needs a place where they can connect with other families in similar situations.

The group is expected to meet once a month and offers local families a welcoming environment where they can meet and discuss some of the challenges, tactics and rewards of raising a child with special needs.

Amy Hall, a parent of two children who helped to coordinate the group, said she felt the group was needed in Madison County and that it offers a safe place where families can meet others in a similar situation.

Hall said the group can be a welcome retreat for parents who might not always have another outlet to interact with adults outside a clinical setting.

"It's a place where we can talk and share ideas without feeling judged," she explained. "It can sometimes be hard for us to relate to parents who have children without special needs. It's a different situation. Most of the parents I get to talk to on a regular basis are other parents and adults in the waiting room during therapy visits."

Hall said the group meetings are more of a relaxed feel and that parents can bond with others in a safe place.

"While we are fortunate to have many people in our lives that are accepting and understanding of our situation, there is something about that safety of sharing with people that understand your situation completely," she explained.

Hall said raising a child with special needs can be daunting and the group allows families in all stages of development a great place to learn from parents of older children about what particular tactics might have worked for them.

"There are so many families in Madison County that have a situation similar to ours," she said. "When our children were born, we didn't know a lot about autism and having other parents who have been there would have been great."

While the public perception of autism and other conditions has been making great strides and awareness has been growing, Hall said the situation can still feel isolating.

She said every parent with a child with special needs has experienced getting dirty looks from strangers or rude comments.

"There has been so much progress, but there is still a way to go," Hall said. "I don't mind answering questions about one of the kids. Especially if it comes from a sincere place of wanting to understand better."

Hall said that even a friendly smile from a stranger during a meltdown can go a long way.

"That friendly smile, that means so much more to me than I can explain. Most people just stay out of the situation and turn their backs or sometimes they just stare. It can be very hurtful," she said. "I don't think people intentionally do it to be rude and hurtful, but it can be isolating when people ignore it or pretend they don't see what is going on."

Hall said she encourages families to ask thoughtful questions of parents with children with special needs so they can understand a particular child's situation better.

The parent of two said she is glad that television shows and movies have started to portray more main characters who have special needs like autism, but that every situation is different.

"I think a lot of stuff that is portrayed on TV, shows people with autism in these savant situations," Hall said. "While it's great that it is raising awareness, the best way to really understand a particular child close to you is to get involved. Kids can be really understanding which is great. They ask a lot of questions and try to get my kids involved the best way they can."

Patience is key to fostering a strong relationship with families who have children with special needs.

Hall said some children can be picky eaters and food needs to be carefully planned or brought along for special occasions like holiday and birthday parties. Gift-giving can also seem strange to those that wish to give a particular gift to children.

"That is something hard for some people to understand, but if they only want Legos, we ask that they give only Legos," Hall explained.

The support group is also working to help parents with advocacy in the public school setting. Hall said due to many doctor's visits and other situations, some parents are fighting a battle on truancy issues.

The group is also a great place to discuss and celebrate the many accomplishments of families.

"The successes are the biggest deal," Hall said with a laugh. "It's amazing. We celebrate everything; whether that is trying a new food or talking. You have to find happiness in the little things and they mean so much."

Hall said, when her children were born, the doctors were unsure if her children would speak and, when her son started to be verbal, the family was shocked and pleased.

"It is a huge accomplishment," she said. "We were really surprised, but every day he grows more and more."

The group recently met in November to discuss tips and tactics of how to get through the holiday season stress free and each meeting will likely center around other topics that parents might find helpful.

"There is so much we can learn from each other," Hall said. "Everyone is welcome to attend and we hope to add more families to the group in the new year."

The group will meet next on Jan. 11 at the WeeCan located at 830 Eastern Bypass, Suite A6, in Richmond.


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