Parenting can be challenging on any given day, but for parents of children with special needs it can be extra stressful. Caring for a child with unique needs is often isolating, plus worries about social acceptance, health or future opportunities can further compound the experience.
Whilst there are many services available for children who have a disability, supporting their families is fundamental.
For seven parents and grandparents of special needs children in Western Melbourne, attending a six-session group to build their support networks and parenting strategies has been a lifeline. The group is part of MacKillop’s Strengthening Parent Support Program which helps connect families of children with a disability in their local area.
Eleanor* said she felt truly isolated when she first contacted MacKillop to enquire about the group.
Coming to the group has really provided the reassurance of knowing there are other parents in my position going through something similar. You can’t go wrong with learning something!
Marlee* expressed how her confidence has grown since completing the course.
"It’s helped me understand my child’s behaviour and why he was doing certain things. I feel a lot more confident in knowing what to do now."
Acting Coordinator for Western Regional Parenting Service, Abigail Hoy, has seen the impact of the group on parents who are at their wits end.
“Many parents who participate don’t know where else to turn. Some of them aren’t even clear their child has a special need – they just know something isn’t right and desperately need support.
“Coming to the group gives parents a deeper understanding of their child’s perspective and how they differ from other children.”
Abigail says focusing on the strengths is key to gaining confidence – something parents and carers often struggle with.
Much of the time parents already have the answers, they just need another set of eyes to reframe it and the confidence to know that their instinct actually is correct.
For David*, the group provided a valuable external perspective on parenting.
“Abigail was able to see the whole scenario and provide suggestions when it came to interactions. She would say ‘instead of doing this, what if you tried this?’
“It’s just been such a positive experience. It’s allowed me to take a step back and look in a different light, almost like looking at myself. It’s been great all round. The course also really helped me develop better communication with my child. We’re much better at talking now.”
Beckie* says coming to the group helped her feel more positive and confident about things.
“I now feel there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Abigail says the structure of the sessions is key to why it works so well.
“The six sessions are split over nine weeks, with a three week gap before the last group. During this time parents work on implementing new strategies, whilst being offered phone support. This structure really enables parents to put what they learn into practice.”
If you’d like more information about joining the group, or how the Strengthening Parent Support Program can help your family, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Names have been changed to protect individual’s privacy.