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Network Brings Together Parents with Disabilities

Your husband indulges your children because his parents didn't. When you object, they run to him. What do you do? Be strict and tell him too much indulgence could cause damage?

Find a balance? Kids understand things better when both parents speak the same language. Say: "Oh, yeah, I'm the nagging witch and he's Mr. Perfect?"

There's a lot more to parenting than physical caregiving. So why does society so often do a number on parents who move or communicate or process information differently from the mainstream?

The question of how to strike a balance between the nagging witch and Mr. Perfect was part of a little "icebreaker" pop psychology at a meeting of the Parenting with a Disability Network last week. Adapted from the parenting style section of, it drew some knowing smiles.

But other questions soon sprang to the fore: How do you talk to your child's teacher? How do you educate people, such as social workers or other professionals who cling to stereotypes and prejudice? How do you make sure the school makes parent involvement accessible and inclusive? How do you discuss disability with your children, help them develop the confidence to deal with questions about why their mother or father uses a wheelchair?

There's no question that society imposes a whole layer of extra issues for parents with a disability to cope with. Like any group perceived to be different, they know they learn most from each other. Which is what it's all about at the parenting network, coordinated by the Centre For Independent Living in Toronto (CILT).

There's the physical side of things: How do you find a good obstetrician, midwife, doula? Where can you get a side-opening crib or other infant-care equipment for parents who use wheelchairs?

What about CILT's nurturing assistance project, which offers parents physical help to nurse their children, cuddle them, change diapers, give baths--all that day-to-day stuff?

But by far the biggest barriers are attitudes. Horror stories abound of mothers having their children literally snatched from their breast by social service personnel who never take the trouble to learn about support systems. The fear of unwarranted intervention always lurks in the background.

"The system labels you incompetent from the start," says Ing Wong-Ward, mother of a thriving 18-month-old daughter.

The parenting network, funded by the United Way of Greater Toronto, links parents, prospective parents, and anyone who cares passionately about making sure mothers and fathers with disabilities are treated with the respect they deserve. It offers information, peer support and advice on a wide range of resources.

"There are no stupid questions," says coordinator Nancy Barry. And it's never too early to contact the group, she adds.

Email peers @, phone 416-599-3555, ext. 227, TTY: 416-599-5077, or check

Reprinted from the Toronto Star, September 26, 2009, courtesy of Torstar Syndication Services.

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