Sunday, April 13, 2014

Local moms facilitate support group where all parents are welcom - By Elizabeth Richards

When parents support each other, everyone learns something. This is the underlying message behind a local parent support group facilitated by Windham residents Katherine Lydon and Nicole Schmid. 
The group is open to all parents but has a particular focus on special education, and many of the people who attend have children with special needs. A year ago Lydon and Schmid, who each have a child with Autism, attended a six week special education class that RSU 14 had set up with the Maine Parent Federation. That class was helpful to both women, and they wanted to extend the experience and set up an ongoing system of support for parents in the area. 

Lydon and Schmid began the group by reaching out to the other parents who had taken the class. From there, they have expanded primarily through word of mouth. “Every time we have the chance, we tell people about the resource,” said Lydon. 

The meetings are set up to have a specific topic of discussion each month with topics ranging from IEP’s to Internet safety, with much more in between. Some meetings focus on issues specific to parents with children who have disabilities, and others apply to any child. This month, for instance, the speaker is Officer Matt Cyr, who will present information on drug abuse among school aged children.        

Some months the topic is narrower, with an emphasis on special needs. In May, for instance, Ann Long from the Maine Parent Federation will talk about transitions to and from high school and the resources available for kids with developmental delays or specific disabilities. “We’re trying to give parents a heads up as to what might be coming up ahead and how to prepare for that,” said Schmid. “It’s all about knowledge, and transitions are really scary,” she added. 

The support group is also a great place to bounce ideas off other parents, and see what information they might have to offer. “It’s so amazing what you can learn. You don’t think of a certain avenue when your child is struggling, and someone else who has gone through a similar thing says ‘Have you tried doing this?’  That information can change your world,” said Lydon.

There are approximately 30 people on their support group list, but attendance varies by month. “When new people come in, you just see the relief on their face, that there’s somebody who understands how much of a struggle this can be if you don’t have anyone to talk to,” said Schmid. “We’re all in this together. Everyone needs someone to talk to,” she added.

Parents with children of all ages are welcome, said Lydon. They have resources available on a wide range of disabilities and topics. The monthly discussions are chosen based on feedback from the group about issues that may be challenging them.

The group is intended to offer support to any parent who needs it, from any community. “I just want people to know we’re here,” said Lydon. She said she often hears from friends about people who have a child with a new diagnosis who don’t have any idea where to go or what to do. “With the support group you can come, you can cry,” she said. “It’s okay. We’re here, we understand.” 

 “It’s that friendship circle you always hear about,” Schmid added. “We all get it that our kids are going to have a different struggle than a typical child. Everybody has struggles, but theirs is going to be a little bit different because it might be a communication thing, or a physical disability – it’s something that you’ve got to make a special plan for. If people can come to meetings and just share the good things and the bad things, it makes all of us grow quite a bit,” she said.

The parent support group meets on the third Thursday of every month at the Windham Public Library. Meetings are typically from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m, but occasionally begin earlier if the presenter needs extra time. The upcoming meetings on April 17th and May 15th will begin at 6:30 p.m. Meetings are free and open to the public. For more information, or to RSVP to a meeting, contact Katie Lydon at or Nicole Schmid at

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