I have always viewed a part of my role as a special educator to support parents through the challenges of raising a child with a disability. Often parents have discussed with me the complexities of navigating the medical system, managing behavior of children at home (including sibling relationships) and acceptance of their child within their extended family and the wider community.
It was during one such conversation with a parent of a child with Autism that I realized her experience was not unique and, rather than just talking to me, she might benefit from talking to other parents of children with disabilities at the school her child attended. Thus, the idea for my first parent support group was born.
I initially was uncertain about the level of interest the parent cohort at my school would have in participating in a support group, so I conducted a brief survey to determine interest levels, suitable times to meet and frequency of meet-ups.
At the first meeting, I shared the challenges I had experienced as a foster-mother to a 10-year-old girl. This opened the floodgates, enabling parents to share and, ultimately, connect with others going through similar experiences to them.
As my teaching career has progressed, I have continued to run support groups. I have found a mix of day and evening meetings, informal sessions where participants can just meet-up and chat combined with more formal sessions led by a guest speaker, such as a psychologist or paediatrician, to be most beneficial.
Organising and running a parent support group can be demanding of one’s time, but ultimately very rewarding as parents form new bonds and realize they are not alone in facing the challenges of raising a child with a disability.