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Northwest Tennessee group unites parents of special needs children

Northwest Tennessee group unites parents of special needs children

Posted: Monday, August 11, 2008 7:02 pm

Families and caregivers of special needs children — children who experience special medical needs or developmental delays — are forming a support group in northwest Tennessee. The goal of this new group, PALs (Preparing for Abundant Life), is to help equip parents with the resources to provide their children the opportunity to reach their highest potential. Organizers of the group plan to accomplish this goal by establishing a network of friendships, offering encouragement and providing guest speakers that will offer tips to improve their children’s lives. Debbie Reynolds of Martin started the group in the spring of this year. She understands first-hand the challenges a parent of a special needs child faces. Her 3-year-old daughter, Chesney May, was diagnosed with DiGeorge syndrome, also known as velocardiofacial syndrome (VCFS), soon after her birth. “Most parents that I have met through the group are just like I was — overwhelmed, uninformed and lost,” she said. “It’s a very lonely place to be at times. A life that consists of medical conditions, surgeries, multiple therapies, developmental delays, special education, early intervention — it’s just a different existence. It’s one in which you need all of the hope, support and encouragement you can get. “You need help in becoming educated on your child’s rights and how to best educate them so that they can attain their highest potential. I want to help other parents avoid the pitfalls I fell into and teach them the things I have learned and am still learning along the way.” Ms. Reynolds is a veterinarian who has recently traded her full-time position to that of a part-time veterinarian in order to appropriately care for her daughter. She added that it is difficult for both parents to work full time and care for a child with special needs. There are multiple therapy appointments, medical appointments and educational needs that must be attended to during the work day. In addition, there are therapy programs, home-schooling to supplement for the child’s weak areas and spiritual development to be done at home. “I spend a lot of my time advocating on Chesney May’s behalf,” she said. “Most medical professionals, educators and therapists don’t know a lot about VCFS, so I have to make sure to be educated in order to tell them what my daughter needs.” Josie Bowlin of Rives is also a member of the new group. In explaining her reason for joining PALs, she said, “We have all been through so much with our children, and I count it a joy to help others who are currently in similar situations.” Mrs. Bowlin’s 2-year-old daughter, Millie, experienced several complications at birth and throughout her first two years of life. Although her daughter has made great strides, their calendar also stays booked with appointments and therapy sessions to help her excel. She and other members of the group are compiling their experiences into a book full of tips for new parents facing special medical needs or developmental delays. Topics of the book include surviving hospitalization, locating resources in your hometown and definitions of medical terms, among others. “We just want to offer shortcuts and insights to help parents save time and try to prevent frustrating situations,” she said. Although PALs is in the early stages of development, the young group already has over a dozen families participating. The group meets every four to six weeks, typically at the Shepherd’s Field Church in Martin. The church has provided their facility and, most importantly, their support to help the new group flourish. “While some meetings are educational, some meetings are just for fun,” Ms. Reynolds said. “At times it’s for the whole family and sometimes it is just the female caregivers. We have several moms, aunts and even a great-grandmother, all who are the primary caregivers of a child with special needs.” She said the next meeting is from 3-5 p.m. Sunday and will be a family fun day at Wee Play in Union City. A training seminar will take place on Sept. 20. This training will be facilitated by a professional from the Memphis-based STEP organization, Support and Training of Exceptional Parents. The training will provide information and education regarding children’s rights and educational opportunities. Details of the meetings will be on the Web site. For more information concerning PALs, visit the Web site at www.pals.vpweb.com or contact Debbie Reynolds at (731) 514-0797 or Josie Bowlin at (731) 446-2242. Published in The Messenger 8.11.08