On January 26, 1992 I started a journey of unknown distance. I didn’t have a map, a flashlight, or a compass. What I did have was an unrelenting commitment to make it to the finish line and learn all I could along the way. I wanted to see everything I could. I wanted to savor every smell and taste; feel every sensation. Little did I know that after twenty-seven years while traveling what would become familiar paths, I would still discover hidden gems along the way. I am on a journey that continues to this day.
What type of journey is this, do you ask? The journey of raising a child with a disability. The journey of guiding that child to become a strong, independent, loving, and self-confident individual. I have been asked many times over the years how did I know what to do, where to go, who to talk to and ask questions of. The answer is, I learned as I went along.
Receiving the news that your child has a disability is a life changing event. Whether it’s at birth, during childhood, as a young adult, or as a result of an accident or injury I can’t stress enough the importance of asking questions, challenging preconceived ideas of others, and seeking out information and networking with other parents. Within a few days of our diagnosis, I reached out to a group of parents. I wanted to know what they knew, where they had been, and what worked and didn’t work. They were eager to share. They introduced me to their guides and travel agents.
Through this group I met people who had traveled my journey – they had their compass and their flashlight, and they were drawing a workable map to guide them forward. I asked if I could tag along, maybe even borrow their map to see how or if it could help me find my way. Many times, I faced what I thought was a dead end. I just sharpened my pencil, grabbed an eraser, and redrew my map to continue forward to discover what lay ahead.
Connecting with other parents who have experienced very similar circumstances and are willing to share what they have learned is the beginning of forging your path forward.
In Arkansas, you can reach out to numerous organizations for resources and information and make connections with parents who have traveled your path. Here are just a few to get you started. There is always someone who will walk with you and help you draw your map.
- Disability Rights Arkansas disabilityrightsar.org
- The First Connections Program – Early Intervention Services for Children Birth to 3 years of age https://dhs.arkansas.gov/dds/firstconnectionsweb/#fc-about
- Partners for Inclusive Communities – https://uofapartners.uark.edu/
- Arkansas Children’s Hospital – archildrens.org
- The Center for Exceptional Families – thecenterforexceptionalfamilies.org
- The Arkansas Autism Resource and Outreach Center – aaroc.org
- NAMI Arkansas – namiarkansas.org