No One is an Island - Parent Support Groups

Support groups are valuable for parents of children with special needs.

By Pat Linkhorn

You may not think talking to other parents is for you or that telling your problems to a bunch of strangers could be any help at all. Perhaps your grief seems too recent or too open to share. Maybe you don't want people to see your hurt and disappointment, Or maybe you feel it's your problem and it's just too personal to share. Or maybe you feel guilty, or angry. Whatever the reason, you stay in isolation and fight the battle alone.

Having a disabled child is hard enough on a family. First of all, you have no guidelines, and if it's your first child, well, it's even more of a mystery. It's kind of like scuba diving without any scuba equipment. There will be times when you're short of air and you feel like you're drowning. And there's no life guard on duty either.

But if you're floundering around out there with other parents, someone may offer to pull you to shore, or they'll share their oxygen with you. There will be a lot of buoys to swim towards and there may even be a life guard to throw you a life jacket if the current seems to be pulling you under.

The first time you go to a support group meeting, you may be disappointed. Conversation may not flow, or it may flow too much and you may not get a chance to say anything at all. One person may dominate the conversation and you may not be the least bit interested in what they're saying. It may not seem like it's for you at all. Not every support group will be right for you and maybe you should try to find another if the one you're in does not seem to fit.

But the benefits of being around others who share many of the same problems you do can be so advantageous to you. You'll find that many of the feelings you don't even admit to yourself are shared by others. Many of the unique problems you seem to encounter daily are not so unique after all. Solutions to baffling situations may become evident to you as you listen to others.

You will find out it's okay not to always like your child, that others have problems with grandparents and friends, that it's not your fault, that your concerns are shared by others and that you're not alone. A handicapped child takes so much time and energy and the parents don't always feel as if it's worth the time and energy to arrange to go to meetings. It may seem like just another "thing" that you have to do, but it will benefit the whole family. You'll be around other adults like yourself, hear normal adult conversations and be able to go home with a slightly different, better perspective. You'll begin to heal and accept. You will begin to think of the future differently, and hopefully, with a more positive attitude.

Time and again I've heard other parents say, "I found out I wasn't alone!" when talking about support groups. It's a statement that's part of nearly every parent's story. If you haven't joined (or started) a support group, think about it.

So, swim in groups and when a big wave might drown you, you will have people nearby to help you keep your head above water.

Pat Linkhorn is a professional advocate for families with children who have special needs. She is the author of Off the Fence : Disability Advocacy. She is also experienced parent and has two girls with special needs - autism and blindness due to prematurity. Visit her website.