One is an Island
value of support groups.
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
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
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 doesn't 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'll 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'll
begin to think of the future differently, and hopefully, with a more positive
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'll have people
nearby to help you keep your head above water.
Copyright 2001 Pat Linkhorn
Pat Linkhorn is the Editor of Special
Education at About.com and a professional advocate for families with children
who have special needs. She is also an experienced parent and has two girls
with special needs - autism and blindness due to prematurity. http://thelinkto.com/linkhome