There are so many reasons why NOT to be a volunteer as a special needs parent:

Your time is limited enough with the demands of looking after your child, appointments and meetings.

You don’t have child care (what even is that again?) 

Your life revolves around your family and you have lost touch with things in the community or friends. 

Exhaustion from so little sleep.

When your child or children have high needs it’s natural to become more insular and perhaps isolated.

I used to be there.

I stopped going to all the baby and children things because my children could not cope and it just highlighted to me how different they were.

Even when my children finally started specialist nursery provision I found myself staying home and sleeping or doing shopping and housework. 

The only place I ever managed (and only ever now and again) when my children were young was church.

There were other parents of young children there but I never really knew them.

My children needed me in crèche because they could not communicate or walk and any change in routine caused them to scream.

As they sat in their buggy one week though I heard that the church was starting up a parent and toddler group.

I never got out the house and the church was right across the road from my house so I decided I would at least try and go since I had nothing to lose. 

It took courage to go that first week.

The second week was a little easier.

The week after was starting to become routine and by the fourth week we were on a roll.

With things just starting out there was less noise and everything was new so my children could crawl or roll at two years old as much as they wanted and no-one commented.

Then just a few months after starting I moved house and the children started nursery.

I actually found myself missing the group. 

Two years later and with both my children now at school and having moved back to the area I heard one week in church that the toddler group needed someone to help out every week.

It was just one and a half hours a week and didn’t need any preparation or special skills so I thought I would try it. 

Four years later and I still volunteer at Little Hands Toddler Group.

So many of the children have moved on to school and I have held babies in my arms that have went on to come weekly for their full preschool years.

I have seen sisters and brothers arrive and grow and bought Christmas presents for over 50 toddlers for Santa to give out at the party.

I set snacks out for over thirty children every Friday morning and fill a full community centre room with toys that were once played with by my own children who are now almost ten!

While I do have to miss some weeks due to hospital appointments and meetings for my children I look forward to my Friday mornings singing nursery rhymes and talking to parents of all ages and backgrounds while their little ones play. 

Volunteering for something in the community as a special needs parent has benefitted the toddler group so much.

They gain a reliable and committed member who has lived experience of older children and has lived through the teething, weaning, moving to the cot bed for the first time and saying those first words (well actually I haven’t ever had this one but that’s ok!).

They gain someone willing to haul toys out of a cupboard, cut endless bananas for snack, hold a crying baby to give a weary mum a break, and who doesn’t need to rush away for nap time so can put the toys back away in the cupboard ready for another week. 

But it’s far from one sided! 

Here at three things I gain by volunteering:

1. It takes my mind off my own troubles. 

When my son has seizures, MRI’s to check the growth of his brain tumour, isn’t sleeping and can’t speak at ten I could easily become consumed with the weight of the world on my shoulders. 

Taking just 90 minutes a week away from that helps my mental health and reminds me that everyone has troubles of their own too. 

2. It connects me with other people. 

Some weeks other than professionals directly involved with my children the only other people I see are the mums and dads and grandparents at toddlers!

My life is isolated but so are many of the families who come to toddlers.

What I discovered is that for some the only time they get out in their own community is for that Friday group.

Connecting with other people is powerful and sometimes we find we have much more in common with others than we first realise. 

3. It opens the way for my whole family to be part of the wider community. 

It’s more than just that 90 minutes a week.

While the parents and grandparents at toddlers don’t get to meet my special needs children during the group I often see some of them about in the supermarket, the park or the library.

By volunteering at a community group, I have broken down barriers and now find so many of the people from the group want to talk to me and meet my children when they see me out-with the group.

They respect me for helping somewhere I don’t need to and that brings a respect for my children and their needs too.

It’s not the first time a little toddler from the group has ran up to me in Asda and wanted to show me they have been practicing Incy Wincy Spider.

They don’t bother that my son in a wheelchair at all and my son loves watching the toddlers singing and doing actions.

It’s only recently that many of the mums and dads from toddlers have worked out why I sing all the nursery rhymes while using Makaton.

It’s because almost ten years after my own son was born he is still at the stage where I am singing and signing nursery rhymes to him too. 

I am not anyone special. I am a mum who loves kids.

It’s refreshing and exciting seeing other children meet milestones that my own children have yet to or may never reach. Instead of getting bitter volunteering helped me get better. 

I could spend my Friday mornings sleeping, watching TV or scrolling through Facebook.

Instead I pull toys out a cupboard, sing the wheels on the bus three times over and wipe up other children’s mess.

I arrive tired, emotional and full of worry but leave invigorated, happy and full of hope. 

I can’t recommend volunteering as a special needs parent enough.

It helps everyone and I have never regretted it.

Oh, and it’s good to see other people’s children scream as much as mine even when they can speak!

See we have much more in common with others than you think!

Try volunteering! You won’t regret it! 

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