Special Needs Friends started for the developmentally disabled
News & Record - 11/18/2018
Nov. 18--The mother of seven special-needs children and young adults, Teresa Julian sought a safe environment where her children and other developmentally delayed children and young adults could meet new friends, play, listen to music, learn new skills and have fun.
"There are some great programs out there, most too far to drive to, that offer special activities, but they are more for higher functioning disabled adults," said Julian, who lives in Stoneville. "Because I have special-needs children, and I have seen them made fun of by others, even in a so-called special environment, I felt there was a need for a place where the developmentally delayed can go and be themselves without being made fun of, bullied or laughed at."
In early November, Julian started Special Needs Friends with the goal of meeting every other Saturday at 1 p.m. at First Baptist Church in Madison.
While the meetings are for any child or young adult with a disability, Julian said Special Needs Friends will cater to mostly developmentally delayed individuals.
"Some of our members are non-verbal, some are in a chair, some have autism and some are higher levels than others," Julian said. "I say young adults because some individuals may be 40 and mentally they are 8."
Individuals from Rockingham County, as well as surrounding counties, are welcome to attend Special Needs Friends, though Julian asks that participants contact her prior to coming to make sure unforeseen circumstances have not caused a change in plans and to ensure parents whose children have issues with crowds have time to prepare.
"It is worth driving an hour to be a part of this wonderful group of kids and adults and caregivers," Julian said.
In addition to planning fun outings, crafts and
holiday-themed activities, Julian also plans to offer programs to help participants gain self help and people skills and learn about the community, proper socialization, how to stay safe and how to treat others.
"I am hoping Special Needs Friends helps those who attend by giving them confidence, self worth, a feeling of safety, love and acceptance," Julian said.
She also believes the program will give parents a safe place to share the joys, frustrations and challenges of having special-needs children.
"It does kinda become a support group for the parents and caregivers, too, as we all talk and share our ups and downs," Julian said. "I want all to feel like family and friends."
Julian and her husband, John, moved to Stoneville six years ago from Missouri. Their path to adopting special-needs children began after they were plagued with fertility issues. They had always wanted a large family and in 1999 adopted twin boys, Daniel and Dennis, at age 6.
"They were at the level of 18 months old, non-verbal for the most part and still in diapers," Julian said.
The boys suffered from several developmental issues, but Julian and her husband adapted well and helped the boys to achieve several milestones.
"It is just like having your own kids; you don't know what you've got until you have them in your home," Julian said. "They are yours."
The Julians went on to adopt five more disabled children who now range in age from 10 to 25.
"Once we adopted our twins, there was no doubt that the rest of the children that we were going to adopt would be special needs, too," Julian said. "We figured out ways to work around their disabilities, and all of them have come further than expected."
Though neither Julian nor John have formal training in working with the special-needs community, their history of loving and raising seven disabled children speaks volumes to other parents like Dottie Mitchell. At one point, the couple led a Boy Scout troop for special-needs children, and Mitchell's son, Aaron, a shaken-baby survivor, was a part of it.
"If it wasn't for these two wonderful caring people who were and are willing to look beyond the challenges of my son, it never would have been a positive outing for Aaron, who learned to be a friend and deal with other challenges," Mitchell said.
Julian is excited about having the freedom to design activities and programs for Special Needs Friends based on the needs and desires of participants like Aaron.
"I have no rules, and we can do what we want when we want at the level and speed that works for participants," Julian said. "My hope is that we can provide participants a place where they feel loved, where they belong and have friends, and the day is about them."
Jennifer Atkins Brown writes every other Sunday for this section. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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