Can a Support Group for Parents of Kids with Learning Disabilities Help You?
By Suzanne Lang
When I first discovered that my child had learning differences it was overwhelming. My head was spinning, first with realizations and then with questions: “Now it all makes sense,” quickly gave way to, “What next?” “Who can I talk to without being judged—or worse yet, without my child being judged?”
Finding a place where you can speak freely, gather information, and touch base with others who have similar experiences can be a tremendous comfort.
A support group can provide all of that and more. Reaching out to others may help you feel less isolated, and provide guidance to make the journey easier for you and your child. It can also give you the confidence to advocate for your child, and the knowledge to make informed decisions throughout the process.
I began Newtown P.A.C. (Parents Advocating for their Children) in the spring of 2009. The group was born out of my feelings of isolation as well as my desire to be a good example to my children. When my son was diagnosed with dyslexia in 2005, I didn’t know where to turn in our community for accurate information. I found that most people with children who have learning differences tend not to talk about it. I couldn’t understand that: Was it shame, embarrassment or maybe fear of peoples’ reactions? I felt proud of my son. I am a firm believer that a dyslexic mind is a beautiful thing!
So many times during this journey I wished I had someone to talk to—someone who understood how I was feeling; someone who could give me advice from their experience about things such as homework, doctors, evaluations, PPT’s, and IEP’s.
What started as a grassroots organization for parents of children with LD has grown to include parents of kids with autism, ADHD, Tourette’s Syndrome, emotional disabilities, and more. Today, Newtown P.A.C. has 67 members, and has spawned an offshoot organization, The Newtown Special Education Advisory Board to raise awareness in the community and work with the district to address issues faced by parents with children in special education.
Our children need to know that we support them, understand them, and are willing to stand up for them when they can’t. Being strong isn’t always easy, yet knowing there are others you can count on makes a significant difference.
Because starting a support group has been such a positive experience, it’s my hope that sharing these simple strategies will encourage other parents to begin a group and enjoy the benefits of working together that we in the Newton P.A.C. have found so helpful.
1. Get organized
Keep all information in one place such as a notebook or folder. This saves time and aggravation when trying to find names, phone numbers, etc.
Select a consistent meeting time and date such as the first Tuesday of the month. This makes it easy to remember meeting times and plan accordingly.
Find a meeting place at a local agency, restaurant or home. Members must be comfortable with the setting and feel they can have candid discussions.
Include a sign-in sheet for new members’ contact information. Update your email list to notify members of upcoming meetings and related events.
2. Clarify your objectives
Do you want to provide information, be a place where parents can share experiences and/ or facilitate change?
Do you just want parents to be able to get together and share in an informal environment?
Whatever the purpose, clarifying your objectives helps you stay on track as you grow.
It’s not a group if you don’t have members! Send out emails announcing meetings at least a week beforehand.
Hang flyers in prominent places such as doctors’ offices, local gyms, grocery stores, and coffee houses.
Work with your local newspaper to promote your group. Develop a website for members to go to for information.
4. Select a topic for each meeting
A group discussion is more effective if there is a specific subject on the table.
Inviting a speaker to present is a great way to delve into a subject of interest and get new people involved. This doesn’t have to be costly: Most professionals are willing to speak for little or no fee once they understand the nature of your group.
The author is the founder of Newtown P.A.C. and the Newtown Special Education Advisory Board in CT.