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Support Groups

A parent or caregiver of children with special needs has a lot of new feelings and things to learn about. Talking with someone who has "been there" can be very helpful. We are more prepared to care for the many needs of our children when we have the right tools in place, and help from others is vital for learning and coping.
A peer can help with many important roles such as giving family support, teaching family-to-professional partnerships, and providing links to support.
A child may have:
  • Behavioral issues
  • Anxiety, depression
  • Lack of social skills
  • Sensory processing disorder
  • Medical complications
  • Medications, medical equipment
  • Pain management
  • Other factors
Taking care of your child’s health can be hard. You can feel like you are alone or not making progress. Having someone to talk to who knows the reality of special needs can make you feel like you are not alone. Other parents and caregivers have many of the same feelings and trials as you do, but they can help you feel confident in your abilities and help you learn to take time for yourself.
Another challenge you may have is frustration with things related to your child’s disability. Whether it be school issues, medical care, insurance, behavioral concerns or even having the time to meet all of these needs, having someone to talk to is important. This is a time to think about seeking support. Another parent usually has experience with some or all of these things and can help us validate how we feel. After a while, you may be that supportive parent for someone else.

Types of Support

Some support groups cover a broad range of special needs and some are for just one diagnosis. Support groups may be:
  • Social Media (Facebook groups, blogs, websites)
  • Local meetings
  • School groups
  • Work groups

Finding Support

Finding a support group that fits your needs can be tricky. As you search for support, you might feel desperate to find help. Make sure to find groups that have a good reputation. Start by word-of-mouth, asking your health care team and your school team. Other parents of children with special needs are a great help when looking for local support groups. Social media has made groups easy to find. Try searching online, using keywords like a condition and/or the state you live. Statewide non-profit organizations that serve people with disabilities can help you find support near you. Look up your state's Center for Parent Information & Resources Locator, Family-to-Family Health Information Centers List, and/or Parent-to-Parent Network.
Most support groups are free but sometimes there is a fee involved. If you do pay a fee, ask to see if it is tax deductible. Support groups should never ask for any personal information such as your Social Security number or Medicaid or insurance information.

What to Look for When Selecting Support Groups

Support groups should do just that--support:
  • They should help build a network of peers and/or resources that will help support your family in caring for your child with special needs.
  • They should be free or low cost to attend. If they ask for donations, they should be a 501c3 non-profit organization.
  • Some support groups request that members volunteer in some way. Most often, volunteering is a choice, but your time and talents can help your support group. Volunteering can also help you and other parents build leadership skills and group sustainability.
  • Support groups should be specific about who the support is intended for. Groups can serve a specific group of people, a specific diagnosis, or a broad range of diagnoses.
  • Groups may either meet to talk and share, or they could have certain topics that have to do with the diagnosis/type or support.
  • Some meetings may have childcare or allow children to attend. Check with your group.
  • Many support groups have built credibility in the community.
  • Ask other parents in the community or your doctor if a support group is legitimate and a good fit for you and your family.
There are various ways that people find support, so try to find what is most comfortable for your personality and life.

Authors & Reviewers

Initial publication: May 2016; last update/revision: February 2019
Current Authors and Reviewers:
Author: Jeanette Pascoe
Reviewer: Gina Pola-Money