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Parenting Corner - Tips to start a parenting support group

February 8, 2019

When you have a child with a disability, being part of a parents support group can play a vital role. It can lead to improved skills and a higher sense of power and belonging.

You get a chance to connect with like-minded people and provide as well as receive the support and skills needed to deal with the day-to-day issues that come with raising a child with a disability.

However, if you cannot find a parent support group that meets your needs, do not despair. You can start one of your own. Here are some critical things you need to keep in mind to start a group:

  • Time and energy - This is the most critical factor and must be carefully considered before you set out to start a group. Partnering with another parent may be a good idea.
  • Volunteers - Round up a core team of parents who can help you get things up and running.
  • Start with baby steps. - Take one step at a time, suggests Gopi Ramakrishnan, Special Child Assistance Network (SCAN), a parent support group for children with disabilities in Chennai."Some groups start with very ambitious plans and sometimes it's difficult to figure out how to get everything done. That leads to anxiety, differences of opinion, etc. When we first had the vague idea of starting what eventually became SCAN, we decided to start with a get-together, just to get a lot of special needs families in the same space so that we could start sharing ideas".
  • Meeting space - You could start off by meeting at each other's homes, which is usually how many groups start off. You can also check out a local club or an enclosed park area.
  • The local park was a popular meeting spot for many parents in SCAN. "A group of parents with kids in the same age group would get together and go to the local park for some activities and share experiences", says Gayatri Sridhar, a special educator and one of SCAN's oldest members. "In those days there were no such groups and this became a platform where we could share information. We made it a point to meet once in a while so we don't feel alone. When you are part of such a group, you feel empowered".

  • Get the word out - Deciding how group members will communicate with each other, share ideas, etc is important. You can do this on email or WhatsApp, says Moumita Ghosh, who spearheaded the launch of the Kolkata chapter of Cure SMA Foundation of India, a support group of parents with children with spinal muscular atrophy.
  • "Our families stay connected through Facebook. We cannot meet very often, maybe once in three months but we support each other through WhatsApp", says Ghosh. "Even if we dedicate a few minutes every day to help each other and motivate each other, that helps".

  • Deciding how your group will work - Some groups are just intended as a space for parents to talk freely and informally, while others may want to focus on doing certain activities or fund raising. In the case of the last two, it may be a good idea to decide on a group leader.
  • Publicize the group - You can do this through information boards at the local grocery store or café. Notices at the local medicals hops and using social media is also an option.
  • Give it Time - It take as long as a year for a group to grow so be patient. Remember to stay invested, meet regularly and find ways to keep members hooked and involved. Remember, stresses and crises tend to overwhelm people so if the attendance dips, do not despair. You cannot expect all parents to put in the same amount of time", points out Ghosh. "Some people are more motivated while others need some pushing, so one must be patient. What is important is that all parents participate in some way or the other to the extent they can".

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