Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Support Groups

I expect some of you are like I used to be and quite wary of the phrase 'support group'. However, when my daughter was tiny I lived in Athens, Greece, and the amount of help available for the parents of any special needs child was minimal to say the least. I don't remember who it was that gave me the phone number of a support group aimed at all parents of children with special needs, but I am forever grateful to them.

In this country you will probably get plenty of professionals available to help you, but you also need to have that bit of emotional support from people in similar situations. Trying to deal with what has happened to you and it's repercussions can be totally daunting and if you are on your own, it can feel insurmountable and hopeless at times. To be able to get together with other parents and share your experiences and what you are learning along the way really helps to put your own life into perspective.

I think the trick is to take out of a support group what you need and be aware of what does not apply to you and leave that behind. I found it such a relief to talk to other parents who were experiencing the same ups and downs that I was. I also made some very good friends, a couple of which I still keep in touch with even though we are now miles apart. I even ended up running a small subsidiary support group from my home for a couple of years, and to be honest it was pretty raucous at times, but we knew that if we were having difficulties there was always someone to call on for a shoulder to cry on or some practical advice and help.

Joining a support group can also be an incredible source of information. I am amazed at how much information does not get passed on to the new parents of a child with Down's sometimes - one of the reasons I started this blog. So much of it you end up discovering along the way, but to be able to get in contact with parents of older children who have been where you are today can be invaluable. I wish that twenty-two years ago when so-called educated professionals were telling me that my daughter would be a vegetable, unable to do anything much and would ruin my life that I had had someone to tell me from their own experience that she would be capable of going to mainstream school, even college, and fit into society very nicely, thank you! When things are at their bleakest, this is what you really need - hope.

So my advice is to try a support group - there are plenty around, and if you don't know where to start, get in touch with the Down's Syndrome Association or even your health visitor or doctor's surgery. In our area (North Hampshire/Surrey) there is the Stepping Stones group who meet up in Hartley Whitney once a month.

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