Support group helps families with special needs members

Photo by Sue Suchyta
Carolyn Haury (right), of Dearborn leads a support group for families with special needs members at St. Paul American Lutheran Church in Dearborn. Sarah Temkow (left) of Dearborn, a school psychologist with the Livonia Public Schools, has helped the group as a guest speaker and resource person.

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN – Whether providing resource information or simply listening, Carolyn Haury of Dearborn said the rewards of leading a support group for families with special needs members inspires her to continue it.

The support group meets at 7 p.m. the third Monday of each month at St. Paul American Lutheran Church, 21915 Beech St. in Dearborn. Haury, the church’s director of music and the mother of two adult children with special needs, founded the group two years ago when she discovered two other church families who each had a pair of special needs children as well.

She said she remembered what it was like when her children were younger, and she and her husband were both working, and she thought a support group to share advice and experience was a good idea.

“We try to collect information so we can point people to the right organizations, the right books and just to be emotionally supportive as well,” Haury said.

She said it is still challenging to get social services for adult family members with special needs, and she finds it fulfilling to point people toward the right resources so they can get one-on-one counseling about navigating the social services system and getting the benefits they need.

She added that it is difficult for people with special needs family members to be able to find time in their evening to attend a support group, even once a month.

She said it is common to have only two additional people at a support group meeting, and the most attendees she has ever had is six.

“Every month it’s someone different,” Haury said. “Whoever really needs to talk and get some support will come, so we just go with it. I say ‘God provides.’

“There will be someone who is at the end of their rope with their autistic child and then there will be someone whose autistic child is a little bit older and can say, ‘Maybe you could look into this.’”

She said some of the support group members are teachers in the public schools, who can explain the process of getting an Individual Education Plan for their child. An IEP lists the services a child needs.

Haury said the support group has brought in special education professionals to explain IEPs and other special services, as well as other resources, like spiritual fellowship groups for the special needs population.

Sarah Temkow of Dearborn, a St. Paul member and a school psychologist with the Livonia Public Schools, explained Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Attention Deficit Disorder issues to the group last year from the school perspective to help them support their child’s learning experience.

“The school is there to support the child and the parent, but mostly the child in the school setting,” Temkow said. “It can take a big load off a parent’s mind to know that the school is there to provide additional support, especially with homework and organization.”

She said each child with a disability who needs special education has his or her own IEP that addresses the child’s needs, developed with the parents and the school staff together, so each IEP is different, depending on the child’s needs.

She said parents asked her how to get a school to understand a child’s special needs, and she said she was able to help them with wording to communicate with the school staff.

Temkow said support group members responded gratefully to her description of how schools can help beyond telling parents to medicate their ADHD and ADD child.

One parent of an adult child with special needs, (whose name was withheld upon request), said the IEP process is difficult in of itself, and is even more difficult for a single parent.

“Every box (of an IEP) has to be marked,” the parent said. “If you miss one, if you mis-check the transportation box, your child won’t get transportation curb-to-curb.”

The parent said that it is also overwhelming when many school personnel attend an IEP meeting to establish a plan for a child.

“I could never get through an IEP (meeting) without crying,” the parent said. “When you are with your child every single day, all day long, you don’t see the differences. I would talk to them and treat them the way I did my older two.”

Haury said in addition to helping families of special needs members find the right school resources, the group tries to be warm and supportive.

She said she finds it heart-warming when she can match up two people who have family members with similar disabilities.

“It makes me feel good if I can hook someone up with someone who actually has the inside scoop,” Haury said. “We work a little bit like (Alcoholics Anonymous) in that things that are talked about in this room stay in this room, so people have that trust.”

She said that while a church provides meeting space and some participants pray for each other’s needs, people of any background are welcome.

“My faith is that God brings the right people together,” Haury said. “Always there is one person who is really struggling, and to see the way the others will just rally around them is really heart-warming to me.”

For more information about the support group, call Haury at 313-657-0777 or email her at