“The journey of special needs parents can be a really lonely journey,” says Salina Miller from her home office. “A lot of people simply don’t understand the stresses of raising a child with special needs. It’s a lot to navigate, and parents often feel, amongst other things, lonely.”
A mother to a son with autism, Miller knows that loneliness all too well. It was out of this feeling that Mother 2 Mother was born. In August 2017, Miller was working with a local church that asked her to create a support group for parishioners with children on the Autism spectrum. Within a month, she had hosted the first Mother to Mother meeting.
What started with a single meeting at one church quickly grew. Miller was soon hosting support groups in Warrensville Heights, Lakewood, and Cleveland. These meetings gave families a judgement free zone to connect with resources, techniques, and most importantly, other families who simply ‘get it,’ letting them know they aren’t alone.
While the meetings are a great place for mothers and caregivers to connect, Miller knew she wanted to do more.
She began to host events, such as ARTism (an arts and crafts day), field trips to disability-friendly locations such as the zoo, and other events to encourage socialization and collaboration among kids and their families. The group also sponsors Shalom & Tranquility Community Garden on the city’s westside, providing their families with an outdoor space where they can learn to garden and gain new skills–an activity that has been especially helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have children who are all different ages–some little ones who are only three or four and some who are in their forties. It’s a great way for these families to help each other,” Miller explains. “Those of us with teenagers can give advice to those families with younger kids, and everyone can just lean on each other.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic presents challenges in nearly everyone’s day to day lives, for families with a loved one on the spectrum, a disruption in schedules has led to a need for increased support.
“Children with autism strive on routines,” Miller notes. “The pandemic shook that up and changed routines.” As a result, she explains, families “saw a lot more changes in behaviors in our kids, like anxiety and depression. Other behaviors like picking at themselves, not being able to sit still, a variety of things, really.”
Less routine meant additional support was needed, causing Mother 2 Mother to turn all its efforts into online meetings. Hosting three meetings monthly, including one for Spanish speaking families, Miller has seen an increase in all group attendance. In addition, at the start of the pandemic, Mother 2 Mother hosted a drive for weighted blankets to help families who were in need of them.
The biggest impact she’s noticed, though, has come from social media.
“We know it’s hard to accommodate a schedule,” she says. “Whether it’s because you’re cooking dinner, you just got home from work, or you simply can’t be on a screen all day–we know not everyone can attend our scheduled support groups. The traffic to our Facebook group and social media has nearly tripled — that’s where I can really see families coming and looking for resources.”
Whether connecting in-person or behind a screen, Miller’s main goal is that no family feels alone.