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Giving Back: Families with special needs children find place to share & help each other

LAPLACE — Angie Brian was looking for swim lesson instructors who service children with special needs when she thought to ask the River Parishes community for suggestions.

Up until that point in June 2018, Brian struggled to find an instructor who would teach her young son with autism because he wasn’t potty trained.

Brian created a Facebook group for special needs parents and caregivers, and it didn’t take long to receive referrals for swim instructors Melynie Wright, Anita Hefler and Lindsey Vicknair, all based in LaPlace.

Though rainstorms kept Brian’s son out of the pool for most of the summer, she recognized the power social media has in connecting parents to local resources that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Brian’s Advocating for Our Exceptional Kids (River Parishes Area) group has accumulated more than 200 members as of this month.

She said it’s a pathway for the community to share resources and educate parents of children who have recently received a diagnosis.

The group is open to all parents and caregivers of children with any condition or developmental delay.

Gunnar is seen with mom Angie Brian, who created a Facebook group for special needs parents and caregivers who live in the River Parishes. Photo credit: Butterfly Dreams Photography

“I really want the group to be a place to tell stories and share problems without being judged,” Brian said. “It’s for parents and caregivers to feel comfortable with sharing advice or asking questions, and also to give these kids a chance to make friends with kids that may have similar interests as they do.”

The Facebook group has led to two playgroups thus far, one held at Special Angel’s Outreach in Luling and the other at We Rock the Spectrum in the Esplanade Mall.

Brian said children who attended the playgroups had a blast, and she hopes to make it a tradition in 2019.

“It’s something I would like to do once or twice a month,” Brian said.

Brian said she calls the businesses ahead of time and tries to get discounts for families, knowing expenses add up between therapy and other medical services.

“I would also like to receive input on what resources, therapies, equipment and play areas the parents would like to see in our area and find a way to get those implemented,” Brian said.

Gunnar Brian and Easton Oubre get some snacks after playgroup.

Group member Rhea Oubre brought her young son with autism to both group outings.

Oubre enjoys reading experiences posted to the group because she can relate to many of the members.

“We’re all in the same boat,” Oubre said.

“We all have the same questions. Life is hard with kids. When you add in a child with autism, it’s even more challenging. Just to know people are out there in the same boat makes you take a breath of relief.”

Information shared to the group also includes school and pediatrician recommendations, sensory-sensitive children’s attractions, early intervention playgroups and feeding groups.

Some members have posted about custom clothing that has helped their child, while others share news of disabilities grants and inspirational stories.

Group member Kathy Dwyer regularly shares resources collected from decades of experience working with advocate group Families Helping Families.

“When my daughter was born 40-plus years ago, you got all your information from your doctor, and even that was limited,” Dwyer said. “I find these groups so helpful because there are so many resources people don’t know about.”

Dwyer is happy to assist group members in locating information from South Central Louisiana Human Services Authority and Bayouland Families Helping Families.

Brian said Bebe Bode with Families Helping Families of Greater New Orleans has been helpful providing educational content.