FAIRMONT - In 1987, Emily Perl Kingsley wrote a poem about life with an autistic child. It describes pregnancy and the birth of a child as a carefully planned vacation; having a child with a disability is a bit like expecting Italy and landing in Holland.
Equally nice, just not what was planned for.
A group of local parents understand the feeling, and hope they can pool their experience to support others learning to raise a child with challenges, as well as educate each other on navigating the maze of services offered to them.
Andrea Miller recently began facilitating the group and is revitalizing it after years of working under a now defunct grant.
Miller has figuratively been to Holland. Her son, now 6, was born with Down syndrome.
When she first learned of his diagnosis, Miller was overwhelmed and busy taking care of her newborn and his older sister.
For support, she organized a group for parents of children with Down syndrome in Mankato, but it only lasted for a year or so.
By then, her son was enrolled in services through the county and school district. She became involved in the local parent support group, and when its facilitator left this summer, she stepped into the role.
The group offers support for parents of children with any disability - ranging from physical, mental or emotional disorders.
The ages of the "kids" is a wide range as well. Parents with adult children attend alongside the parents of preschoolers.
"There are a lot of years of experience here," said Lee Ann Erickson, director of the local group Arc Southwest.
This month the group listened to - and questioned - Dr. Sarah Mittelstadt, director of Southern Plains Education Cooperative. The organization provides special services for students at Fairmont Area, Granada-Huntley-East Chain, Martin County West, Truman and Blue Earth Area schools. The group talked about IEPs, 504s and the difference between a medical diagnosis and a school diagnosis.
Miller said topics for discussion each month will come from the needs of the group. She envisions a psychologist discussing the path of acceptance, how to talk to siblings about a child's disability, and information on nutritional needs.
"I want what the parents want," Miller said.
The group will meet 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. the fourth Tuesday of each month at Southern Plains Education Cooperative office, 201 E. Third St., in Fairmont.