Moms start support group for parents of special needs children

HOLTON, Kan. —  Two Jackson County moms are starting a support group for parents of children with disabilities.

Lauren Van Wagoner and Christina Murphy both have children with special needs.

“There’s sort of a grieving process I think that happens for most parents that have any sort of diagnosis because it just takes any dreams that you might have had and just immediately puts those to an end,” said Murphy.

Murphy has three boys.  One has Fragile X syndrome and Autism Spectrum Disorder, another has Fragile X syndrome and ADHD, and the other is neurotypical.

She said when her oldest son Rhein was diagnosed, “We were in a state of limbo because nobody knew what it was. We had to do a lot of research on our own.”

Van Wagoner said she also felt alone when her daughter Liz was diagnosed with high functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder.

“It was really difficult,” said Van Wagoner. “I think we kind of went reclusive for a while. We kind of shut ourselves away.”

But just as pain is inevitable after a diagnosis, so is healing.

Van Wagoner said, “Over time, we came to reach a point of acceptance. I think once that point of acceptance was reached, we just decided that we wanted to make a difference somehow.”

So she reached out on the Holton Facebook page to see if anyone wanted to help her start a support group.  That’s where she met Murphy.

“You can’t really understand it unless you’ve gone through it,” said Murphy.

That’s why Murphy and Van Wagoner say it’s so important for parents of kids with special needs to connect.

“She understands what I’m going through, and I understand what she’s going through,” said Van Wagoner.

Together they’ve formed the Jackson County Empowerment Group. They hope to empower parents to advocate for their children.

“That’s something that you do all the time,” said Van Wagoner. “You’re always an advocate for your child.  If you don’t do it, no one else is going to.”

Murphy and Van Wagoner also want to provide a loving and supportive environment for parents like themselves.

“When you can talk to another parent that knows what you mean and you don’t have to describe a back story and you don’t have to explain why you feel the way you do… it’s just so much easier,” said Murphy.

Support and empowerment are their main goals for the support group, but they’ve developed a six-part mission statement for the long run:

  1. Empower parents to be effective advocates for their children.
  2. Provide a loving and supportive environment.
  3. Form a working relationship with the Holton Special Ed Cooperative.
  4. Provide educational opportunities for parents.
  5. Raise awareness within the community.
  6. Bridge the gap between diagnosis and treatment by providing a list of resources and contact information to families struggling with a new diagnosis.

For now, both Murphy and Van Wagoner are looking for one thing: someone who knows what it’s like to love a child with special needs.

“Being a special needs parent is something that I never thought would happen to me,” said Van Wagoner. “But it’s something that I would never ever take back because of the things that we have learned and how close our family has grown. It’s really actually been a blessing.”

The Jackson County Empowerment Group will hold it’s next meeting on March 3 at 6 p.m. at First Christian Church in Holton, Kan. For more information, you can request to join their Facebook group.

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