13 Mar 2012

Why coffee mornings are good for the soul

Earl Grey and a restorative chat

Being a parent of children with special needs can be isolating. You may have found that your circle of friends has grown smaller as you've struggled with learning about and coping with your child's differences and finding the best help for them. 
Parents of 'normal' children haven't had to go through this and may find it difficult to understand. You feel like you're banging on about your disabled child and boring them to tears or, worse, making them pity you. So gradually, you withdraw and in time you may have found that you have few people outside your family to talk to - and even they may not understand.
You may even find you barely go out at all, because going out with your special needs child is like preparing for a mammoth trek across hostile terrain requiring such careful planning for unseen eventualities that you're exhausted before you get out of the front door.
Teachers may not properly understand or cater for your child's needs. Other parents, many of whom don't know you or your child, may stand in judgement of your apparently inadequate parenting skills.
You may start to feel depressed or unable to cope with the demands upon you. You may wake up every morning, open your eyes and think, "Here we go again". Some parents have described it as being like Groundhog Day and I can totally empathise with this.
I've come late to the party, but in the last few months, I've embraced a partial antidote - the special needs coffee morning. A place where no one pities you because you're all in the same boat. A place where you can discuss your child's behaviour without fear of judgement and where you may even hear some practical tips that have worked for other mums in a similar position. A place where you can talk with like-minded souls about the absurdities of trying to find the right educational provision and the hoops you have to jump through to get it. A place where friendly ears are guaranteed, along with a reviving cuppa and maybe even a yummy piece of cake.
This week (and it's only Tuesday) I've been to two - one I have been hosting at my house for NAS Surrey in Farnham and the other at St Saviour's Church in Guildford, where I was invited to speak about my Special Educational Needs Statementing book.
The women (mainly) at these groups are welcoming, determined, resilient and caring, despite the battles that they have fought or are still going through and the daily challenges that caring for often unreasonable, sometimes aggressive but always loved disabled children brings.
No one judges you, everyone swaps stories, tips, resources and support and it is such a relief to be able to share frank experiences with others, knowing they're not going to be shocked.
After I spoke at the Guildford coffee morning today, Psychologist, David Wheeler, gave a talk. He spoke about how many problems with children and adults are caused by their 'needs not being met'. We parents of special needs kids, more than most, spend so much of our time trying (and often failing) to meet the needs of our children that we have no time or energy to meet our own.
Coffee mornings like these are a good way to meet some of these needs to talk to others, share our stories and knowledge and let off steam.
If you are a special needs parent feeling isolated, why not join a group that has coffee mornings, some have creches - or if you know other parents of SEN/disabled children, have a meet up. 
If you run or know of such a group, why not leave details in the comments - you may well be helping someone.