When your child is diagnosed with a disorder or disability, it can feel scary and devastating. If the challenges of parenting weren’t enormous on their own, parents of children with special needs face challenges that often leave them feeling overwhelmed and unprepared on a whole different level.
Like they say about having children that nothing can really prepare you for it, it’s twice as true about having a child with special needs. For the parents, making a shift in their expectations and the future they envisioned for their families can be daunting.
The need for peer groups
In the years that I worked as a therapist for children with Autism, it was hard not to notice how much support and guidance the parents of these young children needed. From not having support from their families to meeting stares from strangers at the play park to understanding what made their child tick to finding schools best suited for their little ones, these mamas and papas had it all. Although the challenges were varied, one common feeling I saw across all of them, was their feeling of isolation that was immense.
A parent once told me she had stopped her taking her son with autism to the park because strangers would walk up to her and ask her why her son behaved a bit oddly. Another told me of the “solutions” her relatives had offered her to help her nonverbal son to start speaking, most rooted in blind beliefs and old wive’s tales. The emotional turmoil and physical stress seemed enormous.
In a country like India, we have miles to go when it comes to creating awareness and sensitising people about children with special needs. We are yet to build infrastructure that is disability-friendly as a norm or provide integrated school curriculums that can accommodate children with special needs. This often leaves their parents scrambling about in the dark, not knowing where to start.
How peer groups can help
A peer group for such parents can be crucial- first, letting them know that they are not alone. This feeling alone can give parents much needed support and hope for their children. Some of the ways a peer group could help are
- Help parents with information, research and awareness of their child’s diagnosis.
- Knowing that they are not alone and that there are other parents and families who can relate to their circumstances and unique needs.
- Help parents manage their own emotions and feelings.
- Find support about resources, playgroups, disability-friendly activities.
- Sharing books that can help them cope
- Having a safe space to seek help and support that is free of judgement
- Learning from other parents experiences about helping their families cope
If peer groups aren’t available where you live or if you’re short on time as often is the case with parents of children with special needs, joining an online support group can be just as helpful. There are also many blogs that document the experiences of families of children with special needs.
If you are a parent of a child with special needs or know someone who is, reach out for support today. A well constructed peer group can be an anchor of support and learning for you and your family.