Christmas can be a very difficult time… especially for parents of children with additional needs.  Everyone seems to be enjoying a perfect time of celebration, with invitations to meals, parties and festive fun flooding in, while for many of us the holiday period is a lonely time.  We can find that we are overlooked for the parties as people “Didn’t think you would be able to come due to, you know, having James…”  Or if we suggest people come over to ours, we can find they have “Other plans…”  that don’t include us.

Siblings and parents of children with additional needs often feel excluded from a wide range of social activities, especially at Christmas.  Many families with additional needs can feel lonely and isolated during this time, finding themselves merely trying to survive the holidays rather than enjoying them.  But it doesn’t have to be that way, there is a support network out there, on our doorstep.  A group of people who get it, who understand what it’s like to parent children with additional needs; a group of people who have first-hand experience of how isolating and lonely a life it can sometimes be.

So, who are these amazing people and where can we find them?  Well, we don’t have to travel far to find out, just look in a mirror and you’ll see one…  Our communities are full of parents just like us who experience similar things to us.  One in five children have an additional need or disability of some kind, that’s about 2.5 million across the UK, and even parents of children with more complex and rare disabilities are not alone, there are parents like you out there too!

Christmas is supposed to be a season of hope, a season of goodwill to all…  How about if we all were to reach out to other parents of children with disabilities in our community and together make this a really special Christmas, spent with people who get it, people who understand, people who carry the same scars as us?  People we can share the highs and the lows with, because they will have lived many of them too!

But where can we find them?  Well, we may have some contact with other parents through school, clubs, church or other places that we and our children access.  We might have a few contacts on social media too (see later for some ideas there).  Some organisations run events to bring families together, there may be something happening near you.

Take 5 and Chat
Friends of mine run an organisation called ‘Take 5 and Chat’, providing or supporting drop-in centers across the UK that are geared up for supporting families with children with additional needs and helping them to meet up.  Have a look to see if there is one near you, or if not, how about contacting them about setting one up:  www.take5andchat.org.uk/sign-posting/

Additional Needs Alliance
I co-founded this support group about six years ago and since then almost 1,800 people have joined, including parents, children’s and youth workers, and more.  It’s a lively, vibrant on-line community, but people also use it to link up locally too…  There’s sure to be some people near you, why not ask:  www.facebook.com/groups/additionalneedsalliance

Mark and James

Contact
Contact are an organisation that provides support services to families of disabled children across the UK.  As they themselves say, “We support families with the best possible guidance and information.  We bring families together to support each other.  And we help families to campaign, volunteer and fundraise to improve life for themselves and others.”  Worth a look? www.contact.org.uk

Mum networks and Dad networks
There are loads of online networks set up to support parents, including www.mumsnet.com and www.dad.info  These networks often include threads for parents of children with disabilities or additional needs and can be a great way to find local contacts.

So what do you do when you’ve found them?  Well, that’s up to you, but connecting with people who share a similar journey as you gives you a world of opportunities…  swapping tips and ideas, play dates, friendship, childminding, whatever you want it to be.  One thing is certain though, if you connect with a bunch of people who get it, who are nearby, and who you can chat to about the things you both share, about everything, you’ll never be alone!

Now, where’s that diary?

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  Isaiah 41:10

Mark
19th December 2018

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Bible passage used in this blog post:
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.