Who started the group?

The group was started by Todd D. Woodward, who is neurodiverse and has a neurodiverse son who attends school in the Bethel School District.

Where did the idea for the group come from?

Through Todd’s disability advocacy work during two Student Success Act meetings, and being on the advisory board for the TOTS Project at The Center on Brain Injury Research & Training at the University of Oregon, he was invited to attend the 4J PRO Parents group, “a grassroots group of parents of 4J [School District] kids with disabilities sharing support and resources and sharing needs, successes, and challenges with the 4J [School District].”

Sensing a need for a group that didn’t currently exist in the Bethel School District, and after receiving 4J PRO Parents’ blessing for them to serve as a model, the effort to start this sister group was launched in March 2020.

Why was the group started?

Many parents wish that they could talk to another parent who has had similar experiences. When asked who is best able to support them emotionally, parents often identify other parents who can share their experiences.

1Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division, Peer Support Guide for Parents of Children or Youth with Mental Health Problems, (2007), 7

There is far too much isolation and far too many parents who feel shame about their children needing school accommodations. When parents come together, they can lift each other up out of the isolation and shame, support each other, advocate for their own child’s needs better as well as adding their voice in a stronger group advocacy voice.”    —Todd D. Woodward

Where did the name of the group come from?

It was a late night and the idea just appeared in my head. It’s taken partly from the 4J PRO Parents group name. I wanted to create a memorable acronym to represent what the group is about. And who doesn’t love panda’s?” —Todd D. Woodward

What is a Peer Support group?

A parent peer support group is a group of parents who come together to share experiences and to gain strength, hope and new ideas from each other. The Ontario Self-Help Resource Centre uses the following definition:

  • Self-help is a process of sharing common experiences, situations or problems.
  • Self-help is participatory in nature and involves getting help, giving help and learning to help yourself as well as sharing knowledge and experience.
  • There is no charge to participate, although a nominal donation to cover expenses is sometimes requested.
  • Self-help initiatives are run by and for participants, meet on an ongoing basis, are voluntary in nature, and are open to new members.
  • The primary focus of self-help is emotional support, practical support, and informational exchange.

Why do people go to support groups?

  • For information;
  • To exchange ideas and coping strategies;
  • To have the support of others with same the issue/problem/concern;
  • To normalize some of their feelings;
  • To share their experience and knowledge;
  • To get advice from “expert” speakers;
  • To socialize and have a good time and feel good;
  • To advocate for change.

What are the goals of the group?

In addition to parents supporting other parents and building positive partnerships with the Bethel School District, the group will have goals and a wider agenda. Ultimately those goals and agenda items will be decided and defined by the members of the group. Some examples could be:

  • Special Education Parents Advisory Board
  • End disability segregation.
  • Diversity and inclusion training for students, teachers and other staff.
  • Advocate for more resources for special education.
  • Perform outreach to school PTO’s and the wider community.

Who is welcome in the group?

Neuronormative parents, neurodiverse parents, guardians, step-parents, foster parents, adoptive parents, caregivers, family and professional allies.

Will school district employees attend?

Since the confidentiality and trust in the group are key, we ask that school district employees pre-notify the group if they plan to attend or wait to specifically be invited by the group.

Why do you use the word “disability”? I don’t agree that Autism is a disability.

We respect the terms you use to define yourself or your children. Since our focus is on accessing school, social and medical services, we use the “legal” language here. It also ties into the disability rights movement.

One disabled mother of a disabled child had something enlightening to say on this topic:

We need to raise people to understand their own disability, which is ultimately more empowering than allowing them to view themselves as special. Autism is a disability in the largest sense because our society doesn’t make room for it. By softening the terms, it makes the accommodations feel like special treats instead of rights. If we can figure out how to see ability as a spectrum, then disability is just a place on it. I think, truly, that disabled people being fully accepted relies on the reframing of the word ‘disability’: From one of rejection to one of accommodation.