There are many special needs organizations in this country that are dedicated to serving those children who require assistance for medical, mental or psychological disabilities. Many of these groups work with children all the way through adulthood, allowing them to receive the extra help they need to flourish and become happy, healthy members of society.
While many organizations often operate on the local level or focus on a specific disorder or disease, there are also many national organizations that can assist families with a special needs child -- with education, advocacy, advice, etc. Additionally, there are some great organizations that support parents who have children with special needs. Here are some of the most notable:
Parent to Parent USA
This group matches parents with a buddy parent who has a child with the same disability, allowing each parent or family to have a contact to share information with and receive emotional support from. By matching parents one-on-one with another mom or dad going through the same issues, the parents of children with special needs can receive the emotional support they need, all while creating a new friendship.
National Youth Leadership Network
Led by young citizens, the National Youth Leadership Network works to build strength and "break isolation"among people with disabilities between the ages of 16 and 28. They try to create a culture of full inclusion, sparking new ideas about how to measure success and ability and supporting youth with disabilities in leadership roles. The group hosts workshops around the country for young people to learn how to develop leadership skills.
National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth
NCWD focuses on young teens and helps them to learn how to cope with their disability and find their place in the workforce. It also teaches kids to access the education they need. Once the young adults are able to achieve their educational and employment goals, the NCWD works to assist these special needs youth with living as independently as possible.
The M.O.R.G.A.N. Project
The M.O.R.G.A.N. Project stands for Making Opportunities Reality Granting Assistance Nationwide.This group, established by parents Robert and Kristen Malfara, supports families in their journey of raising a special needs child, be that child biological, adopted or within the foster care system. In addition to having a large library of resources and information on their website, the group also assists families with travel expenses for medical treatments and gifts of medical equipment that aren't covered by insurance, such as wheelchairs. It works to create a group of parents who are supportive of each other in difficult times.
Federation for Children with Special Needs
Headquartered in Boston, this national organization provides information, support and assistance to parents of children with disabilities, their professional partners and their communities. By allowing these families to more fully participate in community life, special needs children are able to grow to their full potential. The Federation promotes the active and informed participation of parents of special needs children in shaping and influencing public policies that affect their families. The peer support network the group provides allows for families to meet with those who share their plight.
National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities
NICHCY provides information on disabilities in children and teens, programs and services for special needs children (including infants) and research-based information on effective practices for children with disabilities. This repository of information is available to anyone who has a need for it: families, teachers, students, doctors and more. While NICHCY does not have a focus on a specific disability, it does have information and articles about many various childhood diseases and disabilities.
Family Voices "aims to achieve family-centered care" for all special needs children by providing families with the "tools to make informed decisions" about health care and education, build partnerships between families and their service providers and serve as a trusted resource on health care. They also help families learn to advocate for improved policies to best serve their special needs children. One of their main goals is to empower young people with disabilities so that they may become self-advocates for various causes that affect those with special needs.
National Parent Technical Assistance Center
The ALLIANCE National Parent Technical Assistance Center provides resources and materials about special needs children to community centers and families in areas all around the country. By advocating for and providing best practices for caring for these special children, NPTAC is able to encourage families to work with local professionals to find the best quality of care for their children. The group also works with schools and other educators to improve the education of special needs children.
Council for Exceptional Children
This is the largest international professional organization dedicated to improving the educational success of children with disabilities. By advocating for successful governmental policies, setting standards for professionals in the education industry, and providing professional development seminars, it helps teachers, administrators, parents, related students and other educational support staff to best support and educate the special needs children with whom they work.
Disabled Sports USA
Everyone deserves to have a fun time playing sports, according to Disabled Sports USA. Founded by injured Vietnam War veterans, the organization has expanded to anyone with a permanent disability who wants to play sports, but hasn't been able to in a standard setting. Using sports as rehabilitation, many special needs children and young adults gain confidence and dignity through their teamwork and active exercise. Disabled Sports USA also works with the United States Olympic Committee to help choose athletes to compete in the Paralympics.
Whether you have a child with a special need, you're looking to support a family who does or you're a special needs nanny, these organizations can aid you in your journey to understanding and advocating.
Gillian Kruse is a freelance writer living in Houston, Texas. Her work can be found here.