Updated 3 hours ago
Tina Bower remembers what it felt like when her son Ty was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
“I was lost as to what I was supposed to do with the next step in the process,” the Sewickley mom said. “For me personally, I was devastated. I think of the future. If you have no one you think you can talk to, it’s terrible. It’s sad to say, but you have that stigma.”
It was through a connection with other moms in the Sewickley Valley going through the same thing that she found answers and support through her journey.
And it’s the same support that Bower received from moms Holly Maust and Elizabeth Newlin, that the three now hope to offer to other parents in the same situation with the formation of the Quaker Valley Special Education Parent Networking Group.
The group, which is not affiliated with the school district, boasts 71 people — mostly parents and a select group of special education professionals — is geared to offer support to parents whose children receive special education services through Individualized Education Programs (IEP), 504 Plans, speech services or reading issues in the Quaker Valley School District.
Along with a private Facebook page where parents can share experiences and seek advice, the group is hosting speakers to talk about issues that special education parents deal with, like the IEP process.
The group meets the first Wednesday of every month at the Laughlin Children’s Center. It’s next meeting will be held March 7, with speaker Jane Stadnik, from the PEAL Center, who will talk about the IEP and 504 Plan processes.
“Our goal is to be a support for families just like us,” said Maust, of Sewickley. “And to educate ourselves and others on the issues that we have within the special needs community and to foster the relationships within the school district.”
The group started after Newlin, whose 10-year-old son was diagnosed with anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder, was going through a “really rough time.”
She and Maust met for coffee and began talking about how they could do more for those going through these types of situations.
“Why isn’t there something else?” Newlin said.
They found a group of parents — the North Allegheny Special Education Parent Networking Group — who offered support and resources to parents in the North Allegheny School District.
“We said, ‘How cool would it be if we had something like this in Quaker Valley?’” said Maust, whose daughter, Sarah, 10, was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, ADHD and ADD.
Thus, the local group was formed.
Newlin, of Sewickley, who works as a special education teacher, said special education is “still up and coming.”
Often, meetings surrounding students education plans are intimidating.
“When you have this parent support group, you don’t feel alone,” she said. “There’s just no question this should be in every district.”
Upon researching, the moms found states like New Jersey, that require every school district to have a Special Education PTA group.
Their group is solely for parents in the Quaker Valley School District, as they are dealing with the same sets of teachers and special education programs.
“I feel like there is this community,” Maust said. “But there’s no reason why this can’t be replicated at every school district.”
The 2015-2018 Quaker Valley Special Education Plan indicates there were 240 students in the district receiving special education. However, that does not include all of the children who get services who fall into the group.
The group is about providing a space people can share in the daily struggles and triumphs, and understand. They don’t judge based on stigmas.
“Once you find your tribe, like us, we have no filter,” Maust said.
That’s why it’s important for the Facebook group to be private.
For some people, their stories are private, the moms’ said. But they still need help and support.
“We really do respect people’s privacy,” Maust said.
Seven people showed up for the group’s first in-person meeting.
“They were really excited about it,” Newlin said.
The moms understand not everyone who participates on Facebook is going to attend a meeting. For some people, it’s about just getting the help they need from the privacy of their homes.
“If they need us, we’re there,” Bower said. “Everyone goes about it in their own way.”
Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.