Helping Families With Group Support

When families have children with challenges, life can be overwhelming, which is why Easter Seals Hawaii formed the Parent Group

A group of parents is coming together to support each other, and more are invited to join in.

The Parent Group hopes to reach all families that have children with challenges.

Mary Navarro, facilitator and counselor, says there is a gap in support for the parents of young children with developmental challenges after they reach age 3. There is an assessment to determine if a child’s needs at age 3 meet the requirements for special services from the state Department of Education and inclusion in its special preschool. If parents are told their child does not qualify for DOE services, parents often feel confused and don’t know where to turn for help.

“Easter Seals Hawaii began this parent group to provide support for those parents whose children were found ineligible for DOE services,” says Navarro. Its goal is “to help any parents of children who have challenges. The kids may have been assisted by Easter Seals, which helps children from age 0 to 3, but that is not a requirement. The children may experience a variety of behavioral or emotional problems, including sensory issues or genetic disorders.

“A wide range of physical challenges also may be what a family is dealing with,” she adds, including hearing or vision problems, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism, or processing and sensory problems. Children with sensory problems often find it extremely difficult to tolerate loud noises, the touch of certain fabrics or being touched.

“Parents of these very challenging children have an exhausting daily parenting job. These children are a 24/7 challenge, and no matter how much you love them, it is still exhausting. It is so hard to find the time and energy to spend with the rest of your family and your job.”

Initially, if a child is assessed by the DOE and found he or she doesn’t qualify for extra help, parents may feel happy their child does not need special services. But that doesn’t give these parents any options for how to help and support their child until they reach 5 years old and can begin kindergarten. The child will have missed two very critical years for early learning.

“This group is free and offers child care during its session, too,” Navarro says. “The child care providers are trained in caring for children with special needs.”

Annie Godsill, a parent, says she’s grateful for the Parent Group, which usually meets the second Saturday of each month and provides skilled child care.

“We all know family schedules are difficult,” she says. “I couldn’t do this without the child care.”

Members Pamela and John Hutchison say they’d like people to know this parent group is not a typical “support group.”

“I told someone I couldn’t participate in an event because we had our support group that day, and people looked at us like we were crazy,” John Hutchison says.

“But it’s more a meeting place where parents can relax and know their children are being watched by trained caregivers, allowing us to chat, talk story and share ideas and resources,” Navarro says.

“It’s helpful to talk with other parents who know exactly what it’s like to deal with sensory issues,” Godsill notes. “And how it can take an hour putting on a pair of socks to go to the park.”

“Or how you can’t take your child to the parade as other families do because of all the loud noises and crowds of people,” John Hutchison adds.

Navarro says she can see the relief on the part of parents who share their experiences with each other.

“They have strategies to share, along with understanding and caring they offer each other … The goal is to bring these parents together so they don’t feel so alone, and to a place where they can talk with other parents about their struggles and fears – parents who totally understand how they feel.”

The next meeting is from 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, at Easter Seals, 3115 Akahi St., Lihu’e. Want to learn more? Email