Every child is unique in their own way— some face more challenges than others. All parents want their children to be happy, loved and accepted, especially parents with children that have special needs. These stories of hope, useful information and local resources provide the support you need.
A Life of Purpose
Helping Hands at St. Isidore Farm: teaching teens with special needs
By Mary Rose Kulczak
Parents of special needs children often worry about the future. While there may be many programs for younger participants, what will happen when their special needs child “ages out” of the system as they become young adults?
Mark and Denise Vinciguerra faced this situation with their oldest daughter, Renee. As parents of a special needs daughter, they searched for ways to give her days purpose. “We were looking for something to occupy her time. She’s cognitively a three year old, so the work programs really wouldn’t be a fit for her. She loved being outside and loved the animals,” The Vinciguerras began to explore the idea of opening their own farm for Renee and her friends.
In 2006, they began Helping Hands at St. Isidore Farm in Monroe, with the mission of giving special needs teens and adults a place to learn animal husbandry and agriculture, while also developing social skills and business skills. Today, the eighty acre farm has alpaca and horse barns, gardens and orchards, as well as a staff to help implement programs in the on-site classrooms.
The farm partners with Monroe County Intermediate School District, which sends classes twice a week to the farm. Nearly seventy clients come to the farm each week to learn about the caring and feeding of animals, while also tending to the gardens and orchards which supply produce to area farmers markets.
Growing as a family
“Renee and the other clients have all learned new skills and found different things they love to do that are part of the farm and the mill. Each one has grown in their own way, and it is clear, to those who have been involved, truly how far many of them have come,” Denise explains. The Vinguerras youngest daughter, Angela Whalen, also volunteers her time at the farm, along with her husband, Jon. Together, they choose crop varieties and oversee the planting and harvesting in the garden.
“We find that it is important that everyone has a purpose,” she said. “Having a chance to work and problem solve with friends and colleagues lead to another form of personal accomplishment.”
Growing as a farm
The farm is home to horses, chickens, and rabbits, but it is the alpacas that inspired the newest enterprise. “The alpacas turned out to be an absolute wonderful therapy animal for these clients,” Denise Vinciguerra said. The wool, however, became expensive to send out for processing. After several years of research, the farm decided to open a fiber mill to process the alpaca wool on site. They partnered with a manufacturer in Canada to construct a mill that was safe for their clients to operate.
The Craft Guild and Fiber Mill is now a fully operational business that is managed by special needs participants, with assistance from the staff. Special events and open houses allow the public to come and shop while learning about the mission of the farm.
Growing as a community
When the farm work is done, participants enjoy time spent together as a community with outdoor picnics and activities. The staff and volunteers work on creating a culture that supports the needs of the individual participants. “It’s about the socialization, working together, learning to help each other,” Vinciguerra said.
For more information, visit the Facebook page Helping Hands at St. Isidore Farm, or call 419-279-2229.
The Craft Guild and Fiber Mill Open House
14461 S. Telegraph Rd, Monroe
November 2, 9, 16 Open 9am-2pm
December 7, 14 Open 9am-2pm
5 Things to Know About Parents of Children with Special Needs
Different challenges = different needs
By Rachael Moshman
My husband and I adopted our daughter when she was nine years old. She has a long list of mental health diagnoses. We quickly discovered that parenting a child with special needs results in the whole family having a challenging set of special needs. As I’ve interacted with other parents of children with special needs, I’ve noticed that there are some factors that most of us have in common. These characteristics are typically present if the child has any of the following diagnoses, ADHD, autism, physical disabilities, Down syndrome, emotional issues or any other special needs.
We’re tired. Really, really tired. Exhausted, actually. This isn’t an occasional thing for us. We don’t miss out on a full night of sleep once in a while. It’s all of the time. My daughter suffers with insomnia and nocturnal panic attacks. It is not uncommon for her to be awake for most of the night. Even if we do get enough sleep, we’re still run down from all of the energy it takes to manage our child’s condition.
Our schedules are packed with doctor, therapy and psychiatric appointments, IEP meetings and trips to the pharmacy. On top of it all, we still have to go to work and keep up with general household duties.
Our brains our constantly busy. We’re always considering possible triggers in every situation, wondering how to explain our child’s unique needs to others and worrying about the future. My daughter suffers from PTSD and seemingly innocent encounters can send her into a meltdown. I spend hours analyzing every one, looking for the trigger and making plans to help her process it and get through it better next time.
We know more about our child’s condition than most doctors. I’ve read piles of books on mental health and mydaughter’s specific diagnosis. I keep up with the latest research online. I had to become theexpert for my child. I’ve found this is true with most parents of children with special needs. I know a few parents who went back to school to get degrees to become teachers, therapists, social workers and researchers to help other families like their own.
We’re lonely. Our friends and family often have stepped away because our child’s needs make them uncomfortable. Or perhaps we had to step away from them because they refuse to respect our boundaries and parenting decisions. Most special needs children don’t respond well to traditional parenting methods, and our brains may explode if we hear one more time that all our child needs is more discipline. Discipline isn’t the issue–our child’s condition is. My husband’s mother even cut off contact because she found our situation too stressful to be a part of.
We’re fragile. We feel judged all the time. We want what’s best for our child like any other parent and worry if we’re doing enough for them. We often don’t have enough time or energy left to take care of ourselves.
We’ve tried everything. We know you want to help, but if there is a possible solution we’ve tried it. I’ve been asked countless times if I’ve tried “warm milk” for my daughter’s insomnia. We’ve tried everything on a quest to make life easier for our children and families, both conventional and unconventional. We need friends to listen to us and to support us, but we don’t need you to offer solutions.
We’re desperate for normalcy. Yes, we’re overwhelmed and exhausted. Our children have quirks and challenges that often make navigating life challenging, but don’t leave us out. Invite us to your birthday parties, playdates and mom’s night outs. Our participation depends on many factors, but we still want to be included and will do our best to be there and have fun. Vent to us about your problems and share the latest celebrity gossip. Much of our lives are spent inside a small bubble trying to manage our child’s needs. We welcome the chance for some fresh air.
Rachael Moshman is a mother, freelance writer, educator and family advocate. Find her on Twitter @rachaelmoshman.
Resources for Special Needs Children and Families
Wild Swan Theater
Morris Lawrence Building,
Washtenaw Community College, 4800 E. Huron River Dr.
(Season Performance Site)
734-995-0530 | Wildswantheater.org
Wild Swan Theater is dedicated to producing professional theater of the highest artistic quality for families while making theater accessible to everyone, regardless of ability or economic status, with low ticket prices and innovative outreach programs. All performances are shadow interpreted and they offer backstage touch tours and audio-description for vision impaired theater patrons (pre-arranged). Just in time for the holidays, Wild Swan brings Charles Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol, to the stage December 5 – 8.
PARABLES: An All-Abilities Progressive Faith Community
First Congregational Church of Chelsea,
UCC 121 E. Middle St., Chelsea
This community is unique in that they “put the marginalized in the middle” of their attention and care. They feel privileged to learn and grow in faith through the leading of the most vulnerable among us. Worship includes Sasha and Aayla (therapy dogs), fidgets, noise-cancelling headphones, a visual schedule board, movement scarves and an instrument parade, with an eye toward creating participation opportunities for all.
For more information contact Pastor LeAnn Seto at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit chelseafcc.com.
A New Path Financial
3003 Washtenaw Avenue,
Suite 4 | 734-330-2266
A New Path Financial provides financial planning and investment advisory services for clients throughout life’s transitions. Deb Purcell, MBA is a Financial Advisor and a Chartered Special Needs Consultant (ChSNC®) candidate, who has experience helping families who have children with special needs to plan a path and prepare for future financial challenges. Check out their website for a calendar of free educational events updated regularly.
Creating Brighter Futures
4201 Varsity Dr. | 734-926-0740
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy services are provided for children, ages 8-18, who are exhibiting developmental delays, or have already been diagnosed with autism or other developmental disorders. Creating Brighter Futures’ goal is to provide the skills, teaching environments and learning opportunities necessary to improve the quality of life for each child.
Ann Arbor Rec & Ed
Location varies depending on class or activity
734-994-2300 | a2schools.org/reced
Rec & Ed warmly welcomes and encourages everyone to express themselves in a safe, accepting environment. Core values drive their mission, to enhance the quality of life for everyone through recreation and education, serving the entire community. Check out a2schools.org/reced for upcoming programs, such as Fun Night Out, Strike Force Bowling, Moving to the Music, Sunday Family Flag Football, and First Steps.
Habitat for Humanity ReStore
6241 Jackson Rd. | 734-822-1530
The Habitat for Humanity ReStore sells new and gently used items such as furniture, appliances, household items and building materials. They are open to the public Tuesday-Saturday from 10am-6pm and are located next to Menard’s on the west side of Ann Arbor. Get involved by shopping, volunteering and donating your items. They offer free donation pick ups which are tax deductible. They also post their inventory each morning and afternoon on their website making shopping as accessible as possible. All of their proceeds go into their home building efforts right here in our community. When you shop, they build!
Children’s Center for Growth and Development
6276 Jackson Rd., Suite K
The Children’s Center for Growth and Development is a pediatric therapy center specializing in speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy. Their facility is a professional, family oriented environment dedicated to improving the well-being, confidence and future of the children they serve. Through strategic play and collaboration with parents and professionals they strive to provide the highest quality of services to meet the individual needs of each child.
Metropolitan Education & Healthcare Services
Dearborn Heights, Plymouth,
Rochester, Saline, South Lyon,
Sterling Heights, Clarkston
313-278-4601 | MetroEHS.com
Metro EHS specializes in assisting individuals with therapy services including ABA, occupational, physical and speech, and psychological. Their locations have the unique availability to provide multiple types of therapy in one location. Their team also offers services via Tele-therapy for families to access services from home. In addition, their award-winning Saline Center (formerly My Urban Toddler) offers play sessions, birthday party packages and caregiver services that include yoga and massage therapy.
Downs Syndrome Support Team (DSST)
9227 Fieldstone Ln., Saline
The Down Syndrome Support Team was formed by a small group of parents that wanted to share experiences of having a child with Down syndrome. What started as meetings with several families has grown into a non-profit with more than 300 members and counting.
The Down Syndrome Support Team serves individuals with Down syndrome and their families located in SE Michigan. The group operates out of Washtenaw County, but also holds activities in surrounding areas. On November 3, the DSST will host a Wrightslaw Special Education Law and Advocacy Conference at the Kensington Court Hotel in Ann Arbor. For more information or to register visit the DSST website.