Here are some questions for parents of children with special needs: How often do you feel alone or overwhelmed? Do you ever wish you could connect with other parents and find the resources you need to give your kids what they need?
Firsthand experience and awareness of these anxieties are what motivate Lyndy Branton and Melody McMaster in heading up EaGeR -- "Extra Grace Required" -- a parent support group at the North Campus of Batavia's Northgate Free Methodist Church, 8160 Bank Street Road.
Both are mothers of children on the autism spectrum and each week they -- along with McMaster's husband, Sean -- share their experiences and invite other parents to do likewise.
The last meeting was Friday evening in Room A-3 of the Adult Wing. It was an open discussion involving parents whose experiences ranged from that of the mother of a 2-year-old whose diagnosis is still in the works to that of the mother of an autistic teen getting ready for college.
Topics of discussion included:
• Different approaches to telling kids about their own disabilities
• The frustrations and fears of raising autistic children
• Attention to what sorts of things set their children off and what to watch out for
• Prevalent misunderstandings about autism
• Limitations encountered in getting their children the assistance they need
• The experience of dealing with teachers, relatives and even strangers who make them second guess themselves, thinking that they know the children's needs better than the parents do
• When and how to use discipline
• How to encourage kids to use positive ways of getting attention -- by focusing on their talents, etc. -- instead of socially inappropriate behavior
Many EaGeR attendees are the parents of autistic children -- and their children range widely across the autism spectrum -- but the group welcomes and addresses topics that are important to the families of all special-needs children. Many of their meetings are devoted to specific topics, such as IEP (Individualized Education Program) plans, CSE (Committee on Special Education) meetings, family, behavior modification, social skills, diet and treatment.
"It seems like we get a different group every time," McMaster said, "but it always seems to hit the spot. To connect with someone in the same boat and to know you're not alone...that in itself means a lot."
"These meetings seem to have been especially helpful for families who are noticing things in their young children and are trying to get them diagnosed," Sean commented. "It's very helpful to speak with people who have been through the experience and had to overcome a lot of the same obstacles, and just to know that help is available."
Because EaGeR is sponsored by the church, faith is an integral part of its meetings and mission. McMaster, who leads the group in prayer at the end of every meeting, stated that "our Christian faith has had a positive impact on our journey...
"One of our goals is to help prepare the church to work with special-needs kids, who need Jesus Christ as much as anyone else. As Christians, we always have to be ready to deal with them in a merciful way. If they experience rejection at a young age in church, that could make or break their faith."
At the same time, EaGeR is not limited to Christians. All families who struggle with raising special-needs children are invited to attend and to take advantage of the encouragement and support offered by other parents going through similar experiences. McMaster and Branton hold a Christmas party every December as well as a picnic for families in June in order to make people feel comfortable "regardless of where they are in their faith journey" (McMaster's words).
EaGeR meetings take place on the first Friday of every month from 7 until 9 p.m., unless otherwise noted.
For more information, please contact:
Melody McMaster -- 343-4707, or e-mail <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Lyndy Branton -- 409-8079, or e-mail <email@example.com>