How to find the right support group

Parenting a healthy child is difficult at times. Caring for a baby with a chronic medical condition or developmental disability can be overwhelming. Sometimes parents feel  alone in the complicated, unexpected world of child care – special feeding or breathing equipment, physical therapy, sleep problems, epilepsy, loss of a child… the list goes on and on. As children grow older, new issues may include educational accommodations, struggles with siblings or friend, and independence.

Support groups, composed of parents, extended family and friends with common experiences, can be a great help for those needing additional information or emotional support to better manage their child’s care and development.  Having knowledgeable people in your corner means you won’t have to “go it alone.” Susan Lawhon, coordinator of the Family Resource Center at Le Bonheur, explains what supports can mean for families and how to pick one.

Support groups can:

  • Empower
    Parents don’t feel alone in decision making or planning for the future. Shared experiences can be reassuring.
  • Comfort
    In times of need we all need someone to listen to our sadness as well as our celebrations.  Being able to speak freely in a group whose members share a common bond can make it easier to parent.
  • Inform
    New treatment techniques, research studies, available medications, special sports programs, special education programs or cultural events can be discovered in (diagnosis specific) support groups. For example, if your child loves soccer or basketball, perhaps Special Olympics (or other groups) would be a good idea. If the special education path is too difficult to understand, some groups provide “advocates” to guide you through the complicated processes.  Many groups also focus on legislative issues such as mental health and disability employment.

Before choosing a group, keep these suggestions in mind:

  • The group needs to be a good fit for you.  Visit more than one group to know if the ages and experience of family members, topics discussed and meeting times are convenient enough to attend regularly.
  • Inquire about and speak with a group leader in advance. Are all members encouraged to speak up, or is the meeting dominated by a leader with a personal agenda? Support groups should provide a forum for comfort and one where all members are treated with respect.
  • Is there a special time for siblings to interact during the meeting? Sibling support is just as important in family dynamics.
  • Ask your pediatrician, specialist, social worker or other medical professional for ideas.  Email the Family Resource Center at for more community and Le Bonheur sponsored support groups.