By Michelle Seitzer
Clinically reviewed by Dr. Gayle Jensen-Savoie
When I was a new mom to my daughter who has ADHD and autism (along with anxiety, PTSD, hemiplegia, and other neurological differences), I remember dreading trips to the grocery store — or really, anywhere in public. I knew there was a 99.9% chance my daughter would have a meltdown of some kind.
It was just a matter of when (10 minutes into the errand or in the middle of the checkout line?), where (the bathroom or the parking lot?) and about what (the store’s bright lights or the lack of a nap?).
Those were lonely, difficult days. I didn’t have many friends or family members who had kids with special needs, so when I’d call them seeking comfort or support, I often hung up the phone feeling misunderstood, defeated, and — most of all — alone.
Why Peer Support Matters
In those tough, early days of motherhood, I remember wishing I could wear a shirt or sign that said: “New mom here! Trying to figure things out!” or “My daughter has special needs and is non-verbal; be patient with us!”
When I was out and about, I did notice moms who seemed to be in a similar boat — but I knew walking up to total strangers and asking if their kids had ADHD wasn’t the way to go, either.
However, I intentionally went to places where parents and kids gather. Places like the indoor playground at Chick-fil-A, the school pick-up line, the parent waiting room at speech therapy. And I went to these places with an open mind and a willingness to chat if the opportunity presented itself. (The shy child I was would never have believed how outgoing I had become!)
I soon realized that in order to make new friends and find people who understood what I was going through, I had to put myself out there — both in person and online.
Where to Find Support
Here are the places I found groups of parents and professionals who understand what it’s like to raise a child with ADHD and other needs:
Love it or hate it, social media is a great place to find your people. You can join any number of private Facebook groups, chat rooms or discussion forums that are specific to parenting kids or teens with ADHD. And it’s a bonus if some of those groups happen to have an in-person meetup that’s local to you, whether they meet weekly, monthly, quarterly or even once a year.
Parks and playgrounds
When you go to a playground regularly, you might see people who are there around the same time as you — and over time, you might feel comfortable saying hello or striking up a conversation with them. You don’t want to lead with: “It looks like your child might have ADHD like mine.” But you could start with what you have in common: “Motherhood can be exhausting, right?”
I mentioned the indoor playground at Chick-fil-A because it’s where I used to go when I was tired of trying to keep my daughter busy at home. And it’s where I eventually met a few moms who introduced me to other moms who had children with similar needs as mine. You’re all there for the same reason: keep the kids busy, fed and happy. All it takes is a little kindness, compassion and bravery to break the ice.
There’s a great quote from the poet Maya Angelou: “A friend may be waiting behind a stranger’s face.” And I’ve definitely experienced that time and time again in my decade of motherhood.
One of the best places I find people who “get it” is at my daughter’s schools. While waiting outside for morning drop-off and afternoon pickup during her elementary years, I eventually connected with two other special needs moms. We had a lot in common, as our children were in the same learning support classroom and had the same teachers, aides and therapists. If you’re not able to engage with other parents this way because your kids ride the bus or your school allows parents to only drop kids off and not congregate outside, ask your child’s teachers for ideas on finding support in the community or within the school itself (a school social worker or counselor, for example).
My daughter received physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy and other types of support services through her school, her medical team and in the community. I had many valuable and encouraging conversations with parents and grandparents like me in the waiting room while she was in her sessions.
Getting involved in a local church or community group is another great place to find support networks. We were very fortunate to find a church that had a program focused on inclusivity and providing respite for parents of kids with special needs. Not only did we meet other parents like us, our daughter had the supportive accommodations necessary to participate in activities alongside her neurotypical peers. Check out organizations like the YMCA, the United Way, Salvation Army Children’s Services and other community-based organizations to see what types of social events, support groups, classes or services may be available for ADHD kids and families.
Starbucks bulletin boards
Moms and dads of kids with ADHD need coffee— lots of it. So when you’re at Starbucks — or any place like it (Panera or a locally owned coffee shop) — check out their bulletin board. There’s everything from tutors to babysitters to dog walkers and piano lessons listed there. I’ve often seen postings about support groups or therapy services that were applicable to parents of kids with ADHD or other special needs. Next time you grab a latte, peruse those listings.
Of course there are tons of resources online — articles that may offer advice and encouragement that makes you feel supported and seen. And there may be virtual support groups available, too. Local, in-person groups are not always easy to find, and they’re not always easy to fit into the schedule. Virtual support groups are a wonderful solution. And often, the people you meet in the group become “online friends” who you can message in the middle of the night or chat with when you’re having a hard day.
Now, 10 years later, I have an extensive support network both online and in the community where I live. There are still lonely, difficult days, but I know there are people just a text away who get it — and that I’m not alone.