Pamela Martin heard about Parent to Parent of Pennsylvania at a foster parents meeting in February of 2015 where Judy Campbell, Northwest Regional Coordinator did a presentation about the program. She fell in love with the program right away and signed up to be a peer supporter. Pamela joined as a peer supporter in March of 2015. She is working on two years as a peer supporter. She herself is a parent of a child with special needs but also has fostered many children who have had special needs. She brings a wealth of experience to the program and wants to give back to others. Here are her thoughts in her own words:
Recently, I was asked to write an article on my personal experience with the Parent to Parent of Pennsylvania organization. I am fully vested and support the Parent to Parent of Pennsylvania, becoming a peer supporter after learning about the organization. At 32 years old on April 1995 I had a baby boy; the pregnancy was difficult throughout the term and we had several scares along the way concerning the health of the child. When his birth finally came, I was almost a month overdue, he was in distress, and the hospital decided to do a cesarean section because I would not dilate enough for the birth to occur. A few hours later I had a 10 lb. 5 oz. baby on my hands that did not seem to follow any of the baby actions or responses I previously viewed with nieces and nephews. This child did not want snuggled, he did not want held, if you tried to swaddle him he would fight to be set free. He did not sleep well and developing an eating and sleeping schedule was impossible. It almost seemed as if he was uncomfortable in his own skin. A few years later he was diagnosed with Autism, mood disorder, sensory integration, and several other troubling issues.
Our journey was long, heartbreaking, frustrating, and confusing. The baby I had imagined never developed. Instead, he hated the outdoors, did not play with others, and the sun shining through a window in the house could begin a tantrum that I did not understand. While trying to find help for my son, his biological father and my husband decided he could not handle the diagnosis…I took my son to therapy. These sessions focused on assisting my son to learn to socialize, use his words, interact with others, and discover playtime with other children instead of parallel playing alone. Throughout this journey I had little support. My immediate family was far away and we had just moved to a new town where I knew no one or had time to make acquaintances.
I did not know there was an agency or assistance for any of our struggles. We did join the home schooling group and it was fun but both groups met in Pittsburgh or Danville PA which was a several hour drive for us. There were many nights I was up most of the night trying to help my son settle down and one night in particular I actually called a support number I found in the phone book because I knew if I walked up those stairs one more time I might be angry enough to cause harm to my child. It is very difficult to admit this, but by accepting where I was, I could make the call. Speaking with a wonderful on call woman for over two hours, I believe she changed our lives that night. And although life had many difficulties, the majority of the time I had a greater ability to work through a situation with my son and realize it was not about me or belligerence, but simply something my son wanted to do or see. Once I could take out the ‘me’ of my son’s actions they became easier to deal with and address. After that phone call I tried to contact with the same person again but with shift work and changing schedules I never did speak to her again. I am very thankful for that person and believe she changed our lives. I always thought it would be wonderful to have a support group or mentor to speak candidly with and listen to ideas or thoughts for turning negatives into positive situations. The Autism Board does have family support groups but again there are none in our area.
Fast forward 17 years to a foster parent meeting where a representative from Parent to Parent gave a presentation on the Parent to Parent of Pennsylvania program and the services they offer. I admit I was hooked upon the presenters first few slides and explanation. This type of support is what I had been looking for in the past and present. I was amazed by the organization and the procedures used to help a parent requesting support, the vast topics they covered utilizing peer supporters amazed me. I knew I had to become a part of this group. I was not out the door before I spoke with the presenter and requested to be considered for a peer supporter. I know what it is like not to have support because 17 years ago services were not as available as they are today. The idea of developing relationships between parents who have experienced similar circumstances and bringing them together with parents who currently need assistance is a brilliant concept.
I have supported several people in my short time with the program. I believe it is a worthy cause and it also is a necessity for parents that feel as if they have nowhere to turn. Each time I have a conversation with another parent, I learn the difficulty then I almost always have something similar to compare too, while sharing what actions I used that were successful and those that were not. Sometimes the individual will be content with one call, other times we may speak for several months. I know from personal experience it is difficult to walk the road alone with a child who has a disability.
Do I love the program? Yes I do. Would I recommend it to others? Yes I would. I have met several wonderful people on my journey as a peer supporter; a few of them have kept in touch. But even if it is just one phone call, I am thankful I have the opportunity to provide support. Without the Parent to Parent of Pennsylvania I would never have had the opportunity to speak to these parents and offer support while sharing my own experiences. Often the parent just wants to know they are not alone. Some are open to suggestions and others are just happy they have found something in common with another concerning their situations. I push the Parent to Parent of Pennsylvania program as much as I possibly can. It is a worthy program and a valuable tool. When hearing the sigh of relief as you begin sharing stories about your situation, parents begin to feel comfortable and realize someone else shared similar experiences; the relief is evident in the tone and the conversation.
If I have any last thoughts it is ‘Please inform others of the Parent to Parent of Pennsylvania’ organization. If they tuck the number in their purse or wallet you have helped them make contact. The majority of parents I have spoken with about the organization have been elated that a program like Parent to Parent exists. These same parents have chosen to contact the organization and are matched with a peer supporter. I have heard nothing but positive feedback from their experience.
In my opinion the Parent to Parent of Pennsylvania is a worthy organization and a needed one for our communities. The contact can be once or several times, depending on the needs and comfortable relationship of both parties. I have a few that call at least once a month just to check in and share updates or concerns.
If you have the time and ability to be a peer supporter, please consider the possibility. If you are a parent seeking answers, please contact Parent to Parent ofPA, they will quickly match you with a peer supporter. No one wants to believe they have no support or are alone in their journey with difficulties. Hearing how another dealt with similar situations and the family came through them in a positive light is a concept parents seeking help do not always receive.
In my case it would have been easier to try and get someone on the phone. My son did some very inappropriate actions and I struggle with the idea he is that manipulative. Then I remember he has always been this way and I doubt he will fully change. Had I a Parent to Parent supporter I may have talked their ear off long ago. I also have learned some valuable lessons on how he processes things and what he may be thinking just by listening to others.
I admit I could go on and on about the program, I believe it is a wonderful asset to all parties involved and I am thankful I can help another in any way. Please check out the Parent to Parent of PA website if you are either a parent in need of support or interested in becoming a peer supporter. Web address is: http://www.parenttoparent.org This is the best support program I have ever had the opportunity to participate with and am blessed to be chosen to help others.
Pamela is a peer supporter who wants to be there for other parents, who lends a listening ear, a compassionate heart and shares out of her own experience. Our peer supporters are the heart and soul of the Parent to Parent of Pennsylvania program. I am delighted Pamela said yes to joining our band of peer supporters who give back every day to parents who need support from another parent who understands what they are going through.
Northwest Regional Coordinator Parent to Parent of Pennsylvania