When parents are faced with the reality that their child has a special need and may need years of therapies, supportive care and could miss out on a “normal”, happy life, they may feel alone and in need of someone to talk with.
How talking to strangers can actually help
Rather than trudging through the jungle of unknown prognoses, medical decisions and the overwhelming feeling that their doctors are cold-hearted, their family does not understand and no one around them wants to provide solid advice that will put their minds at ease during the initial stages of diagnosis, NJ parents have the opportunity to join one of the many support groups that are organized throughout the state.
Although discussing personal information with a room full of strangers may seem daunting, especially when the content of such personal information regards a child’s well-being and livelihood, the people families typically meet when they join support groups often understand special needs situations more than family and friends who have never been placed in such a difficult situation. Unlike their best friend or sibling, the mothers and fathers who sit next to support group newcomers are aware of the overwhelming feeling that new members may be feeling. They know this feeling because they too have experienced the same gut-wrenching feeling themselves.
The bonds that form
Members of support groups for children with special needs know that one of the initial feelings parents experience is that of no hope. Of course every parent wants the best for their child, but when someone’s son or daughter is diagnosed with a condition such as Downs Syndrome, Autism, a severe case of Cerebral Palsy or a rare condition such as Angelman Syndrome, their initial visions of running and playing in the backyard, watching a little league game or even taking photos as they go off to prom or get married, seem dashed
All hope becomes drained from their psyche and although close family and friends will provide some level of support, it is the conversations with other group members, those who “have been there” and can share their stories of triumph and trouble, that truly put newcomers at ease.
Support groups as second families
Sharing the experience of being primary caregiver to a child with special needs, whether those needs are physical or developmental, can bring people together and bond them in such a way that is more than acquaintanceship, more than friendship and really resembles something like a family. These are the people that parents will turn to when a difficult medical situation arises or an unexpectedly good, or in some cases, bad, prognosis is delivered because the support group environment is inherently non-judgmental and the members can empathize with each other in such a way that outsiders cannot. These people truly care about one another, each other’s children and find comfort in knowing that should something devastating happen, they have not one, but many shoulders to lean on.
Where can New Jersey families turn for love and support?
There are numerous special needs support groups available to NJ families of children with special needs; some of these groups are entirely online based, meaning that parents log onto a specific website and can communicate with parents not only in New Jersey, but also around the country who are facing difficult challenges and seeking advice. However, the state is also complete with in-person support groups, locations that can be visited on a regular basis and people can have face-to-face conversations with local families that are also struggling with the reality of a special needs diagnosis.
Due to the personalized aspect of in-person support groups and how powerful it can be for families to meet and interact with neighbors who are essentially in the same boat, only in-person support groups will be listed within the remainder of the article. If you are not comfortable with the face-to-face aspect of support in your current situation, check out the State of New Jersey Parent Link, which could provide you with online resources and simple advice until you become comfortable with the idea of attending a local support group meeting in your area.
1. Wayne Special Parents Association
Operating out of the Wayne, NJ School District in Passaic County, Wayne Special Parents Association is a support group for local families who have children enrolled in the special education programs in the Northern region of the state. They hold regular workshops and classes, allowing families to bond over the struggles, hardships, joys and benefits that children experience in the program.
Additionally, this support group invites all members of the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network (SPAN) to get involved in activities, attend events and assist in creating a communities for the families in need. These organizers are dedicated to their cause and want to ensure that everyone receives the support they need during their moments of struggle.
Wayne Special Parents Association
50 Nellis Dr., Wayne, NJ 07470
2. Parents Anonymous
With two locations, one in Hamilton and a second in East Orange, NJ, Parents Anonymous is an excellent support group in the Central region of the state that invites families facing a variety of issues to attend and ease their worries.
For families of children with special needs, Parents Anonymous offers support groups to all family members who may be wrestling with the demon that is their son’s, daughter’s, brother’s, sister’s, grandson’s or even granddaughter’s diagnosis of a special needs condition. During meetings, families can share their stories and learn about other people’s stories as well. After attending a few meetings, people no longer feel alone and will often return simply based off of the friendships they forged during the group process.
127 Route 206. Suite 10. Hamilton, NJ 08610
3. The Friendship Circle
The Friendship Circle of Central Jersey is located in Manalapan, NJ and offers support not only to parents of children with special needs, but to the children living with the conditions everyday as well. This extraordinary program provides parents with a variety of services including lectures where they can hear professionals discuss a variety of conditions, round-table discussions where designated topics can be openly discussed and debated, experience sharing sessions where parents can learn more about their fellow organization members and, combining the face-to-face with the digital, The Friendship Circle also has an online chat forum where quick questions can be asked, and answered, in a pinch situation.
For children, The Friendship Circle offers valuable classes, buddy programs, sports activities, summer camp experiences and much more. They welcome children of varying ages to participate in the program and where a child may start off as a recipient of an in-home buddy, through the supportive services of this Central NJ group, they could potentially become a buddy to a younger child down the road.
Members of this support group do more than provide one-off advice to parents who are in need of assistance with a special needs child; The Friendship Circle provides education. They assist the family as a whole, ensuring that everyone, parent and child alike, receives the services they need in order to lead a sustained and full life.
The Friendship Circle
26 Wickatunk Rd., Manalapan Township, NJ 07726
CP of NJ/Advancing Opportunities
CP of NJ and Advancing Opportunities, while headquartered in Ewing, NJ, offers services to families of disabled children around the state. For parents, they offer “Parent’s Night Out” activities in both North and South Jersey where parents of disabled children can get together in a fun and relaxing environment, bonding over the good times rather than the bad or disheartening times.
This supportive NJ group service also offers “Adult Night Out” activities as well as weekend recreational events where children with disabilities can forge friendships, have fun and not feel judged for their conditions. The CP of NJ and Advancing Opportunities organization in this sense is all inclusive, assisting families with children of most special needs conditions and will never exclude a family if accommodations can be made.
CP of NJ/Advancing Opportunities
1005 Whitehead Rd. Extension, Suite 1, Ewing, NJ 08638
As it can be seen from this partial list of support groups found throughout New Jersey, no parent facing the heartbreaking diagnosis of their child with a special needs condition should ever feel alone. While some support groups are generic and accept families of children with any condition, parents looking specifically for a support group that focuses only on their child’s special need can turn to the NJ State government for assistance. Through this resource, people can be placed in contact with other groups that are more niche and center on conditions such as Downs Syndrome, stroke, Cystic Fibrosis or other conditions.
Have you attended meetings at any of the support groups listed above? What did you think of the group and community atmosphere?
Everything doesn’t have to be support and advice when focusing on special needs. Find awesome camps, therapies and resources for disabled children in NJ, making their days much more fun and exciting!