Writers often give other fledgling writers this advice: Write what you know. But what if what you know makes you feel different than most—set apart, frustrated, maybe even a little angry at times?
Fishers resident Lyn Jones is familiar with those feelings. A part-time children’s literature teacher and educational consultant married to an Army reservist serving active duty stateside, she is also the mother of a special needs child. Her son, Will, has cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that permanently affects body movement and muscle coordination.
Feeling the isolation that often comes with having a special needs child, Jones went in search of a support group.
She found groups specific to autism and to Down’s Syndrome. There were large groups that brought in guest speakers, but they lacked the personal touch and camaraderie Jones was seeking.
Inspired to start her own group, Jones settled on an intimate meeting format that would use writing as a means of opening discussion about attendees’ fears, hopes, triumphs and questions.
“I love this idea of writing,” she said. “No matter where I go, special needs parents are always jotting down information.” Incorporating writing seemed a natural fit.
Jones put up one flyer, and five parents showed up for the first meeting. While the group wasn’t gender specific in the beginning, it has naturally evolved into a moms-only group.
Meetings start with a little chat time, and then Jones gives two writing prompts, which she also sends out a week ahead of time via e-mail. Two prompts allow each woman to write to the mood she is feeling at the time—sometimes upbeat and hopeful, sometimes more somber. The women write for 12 to 15 minutes and then split into small groups to share what they have written and expound, ending the meeting back in the large group to touch on key themes discovered.
At first, Jones worried about the writing part.
“I have women in my group who have GEDs and women who are lawyers,” she said, “and I hear the same thing from everyone: ‘I really want to come, but I don’t think I’m a writer.’”
She needn’t have worried. “I think some of the best writers in the group are those who said they couldn’t write because they’re raw,” Jones says.
There are women in the group who are rich and women who are not; women who are conservative and women who are alternative; women who live in Fishers, Geist, the south side and even Monticello.
“There’s no greater equalizer than a special needs child,” Jones said.”I don’t ever see any socioeconomic lines. I just never have to say, ‘don’t judge.’”
The group is a safe place to talk openly about anything.
“It is a comforting experience to be in a room of such strong and inspirational women who have the unique ability to understand what it is I live with daily,” says member of the group Karyn Willmann. “Even my closest family members and friends could never ‘get it’ like these women do. We are sisters who would never have chosen to walk this path together, yet here we are, side by side, holding each other up.”
Willmann adds: “It is an incredibly liberating feeling to be able to write about a subject that is foreign to most, yet writing here, we realize that we are indeed not alone.”
Group attendee Angela Paxton agrees. “Although few of our kiddos have the same diagnosis or conditions, the wonderful women in this group understand my concerns, problems, hopes and dreams for my very special daughter better than anyone else,” she says.
Suzanne Adcook, also a mom to a special needs daughter, says, “I like that we are all in it for the same reasons: friendship, understanding, sharing resources and an outlet for our fears/anger/grief.”
Despite the enormous challenges in the roles in which these parents have been cast, when they come to the meetings, says Jones, “The women aren’t identifying themselves by their children; they are connecting on a level as women.”
The group has grown considerably since its first meeting. While they used to meet at the Starbucks at 116th and I-69, now 20 or so in number, they have a new meeting place at Easter Seals Crossroads off of Keystone Avenue.
Jones, who loves children’s books, says she often gets her inspiration for her writing prompts from the pages of stories such as Todd Parr’s “It’s Okay to be Different.”
It seems at this special writing group, being different is embraced.
For more information on the special needs moms’ writing group, e-mail email@example.com or call (317) 773-9449.