The other night I walked into my autism support group meeting and saw a new couple sitting at the table. They were hunched over and looked as if they been through a wind storm. Their eyes seemed glazed over and their faces, pinched. My heart went out to them. One of the most overwhelming moments of my life occurred when the developmental pediatrician announced my daughter had severe autism.

I had no idea what to do next. Lifelong goals and dreams crashed around me and a sense of helplessness threatened to paralyze me.

I knew this couple felt the same. They were new in town and needed direction. I was so glad they’d come to our group.

I can’t tell you how much my support group has helped me. Aside from emotional support, my fellow parents of autistic children have given me direction. Just listening to the conversations when we get together has helped me find doctors, nurses, therapists, schools, dietary tips, parenting tips … The list could go on for pages. No matter what your child or loved one’s disability, I would recommend finding a support group.

How to find one? I stumbled into mine by taking a class offered by a large local church on parenting children with special needs. I have also seen flyers for groups at my daughter’s school and on community center message boards. Try calling a local preschool for special needs children. They often display flyers for support group meetings, but the groups themselves probably have more than just parents of preschoolers. Local therapy clinics may also have information—it never hurts to call and ask. Attend educational conferences in your area that pertain to your child/loved one’s area of disability. You’ll probably meet other parents and family members who can help you. You can usually find information on conferences from local therapists. As a licensed speech-language pathologist, I get flyers in the mail almost every day.

Also check with some of the larger local churches. Many are starting to have special needs ministries. It is not uncommon for the church to at least have a member who can contact you and help you get connected.

My other recommendation is to simply search forthe words “support group” and your city name in your favorite internet search engine. You can also include the type of group you are looking for: “Alzheimer’s,” “Autism,” “Down’s syndrome,” etc.

Overall, the worst thing anyone can do is become isolated. Having a community to support you can make all the difference.

How do you find support as a Special Need’s Parent?