Support group for parents of children with disabilities kicks off

  • Libby Mercier celebrates at her adoption parade in Peterborough last summer. Libby’s mother Jillian Mercier has started a group for parents of children with special needs. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Locals formed a car parade on Tuesday to celebrate Libby Mercier, who was officially adopted by Jillian Mercier of Peterborough. (BEN CONANT / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Copyright Monadnock Ledger-Transcript. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to news@ledgertranscript.com. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Locals formed a car parade on Tuesday to celebrate Libby Mercier, who was officially adopted by Jillian Mercier of Peterborough. (BEN CONANT / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Copyright Monadnock Ledger-Transcript. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to news@ledgertranscript.com. Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 2/24/2021 4:32:45 PM

As parents of children with special needs, Jillian Mercier and Mandy Carter both know that it can be hard for other parents to relate to their struggles. They’re hoping the new parenting group they're facilitating, called “See the ABLE not the Label,” will cultivate a much-needed social network among local parents of children with disabilities. The monthly group is hosted by The River Center.

Four of Mercier’s five children have special needs including mental health issues, and medical issues like cerebral palsy, and Carter, a Kinship Navigator and Community Resources Specialist for The River Center, has a son who has high functioning autism, ADHD, and anxiety disorders.

“Unless you’re in this world, you don’t understand,” Mercier said, a world of advocating for their child’s needs at school, vetting and visiting speech and physical therapists, or managing difficult behavior. “People have really caring, compassionate intentions, but don’t understand really what its like to live this life,” she said, and the waiting room of a specialist’s office isn’t always the right time to chat up another parent of a child with disabilities.

Mercier has attended programs at The River Center for years, and brought up the need for a support group after joining the nonprofit’s Parent Advisory Council. Carter saw a great opportunity to team up on the project, partly based on her own experience in navigating the ConVal School District to ensure her son had the right support.

“I think a lot of the help that these parents need is just someone to listen,” Carter said. “If I have this group of parents I can talk to… I would feel so much better,” she said. The group will initially meet virtually, Carter said, but the facilitators want to get together in person when it’s safe to do so, possibly at outdoor destinations like the wheelchair-accessible hiking trails at Crotched Mountain.

“To have our children become familiar with each other is a big advantage,” Carter said, since many children with disabilities have social emotional issues and may be able to identify better with one another than with their peers at school.

The parenting group could also serve as an information exchange about local specialists and accessible destinations for kids who might be in wheelchairs, or need low sensory environments, Mercier said. She herself has been looking for advice on how to manage and transport medical equipment so she can bring her 17 month-old to different places, questions that the pandemic has made difficult to answer. Facebook groups exist for parents in her situation, Mercier said, but a lot of advice comes from parents in other states, which have different Individualized Education Plan (IEP) processes or early intervention program criteria than New Hampshire. It also feels distant when you can’t see faces or interact in real time, she said.

“See the ABLE not the Label” is for parents in the eastern Monadnock region, Carter said, but she wouldn’t necessarily turn away farther-flung applicants if they needed help. Grandparents and other family caregivers in need of support are also welcome, she said.

The first meeting is Thursday via Zoom, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., and 90 minute meetings are scheduled to continue on the fourth Thursday of every month. Contact Mandy at acarter@rivercenter.us or call 924-6800 for more info.


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