Women caring for children of all ages with disabilities can find support with the Jewish Mothers/Grandmothers Special Needs Support Group, which meets at the Tucson Jewish Community Center. “It really doesn’t matter what the special need or disability is, the feelings around it are very similar,” says Joyce Stuehringer, who started the group in February 2013.
The group welcomes anyone — Jewish or not — with a child or young adult with any special needs, from dietary to mental health, autism spectrum disorder, physical disability, severe allergies, sensory integration disorder, learning disability, and cognitive issues. The group relaunched its monthly meetings in October with volunteer facilitator Teresa Corbin.
Stuehringer shares her experience with her now-37-year-old son. “He was never diagnosed but I always knew there was something. In the ’80s there was little awareness and [there was] shame. I felt so isolated. Every mom is stressed out sometimes. Put that on steroids when your child has special needs. I felt it was important to start a group like I wish I’d had.” She says that in this group, you know you’re being heard and understood.
“There are certain themes that run through: limitations in life, obstacles, being an advocate for your child. Those things are similar regardless of the disability,” says one group participant.
“Any time you can come together with a group of similar people, there is a feeling of relief, comfort, and healing. This is a way to help support others on this long journey,” Stuehringer adds.
Allison Wexler, the J’s special abilities coordinator, oversees the support group. She started out as a group participant. “My daughter with special needs is 18 now, and a freshman at the University of Arizona. When I started attending the group, she was in middle school. Those were very tough years socially for her, and I appreciated the validation and support I got from the group. Other moms were experiencing similar challenges, and the group made us all feel less isolated,” she says.
Group facilitator Corbin recently retired to Tucson after a 30-year career in human services. She has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in clinical social work. She has experience working with developmentally disabled adults, neuro-typical and neuro-atypical children and adolescents, and college students.
“I find group work to be an extremely effective modality for processing emotions, providing support and developing skills and strategies,” says Corbin. “The group provides a relaxed environment that is as conducive to laughter as it is to tears. Ideally, the group is a safe and non-judgemental space that gives participants the confidence to tap into their inner wisdom.”
The group shares resource information such as psychiatrists, therapists, even dentists and barbers who accommodate people with special needs. “I provide updates on my work to the group, and I also gather input from the women that helps shape the work I do,” adds Wexler.
“I still attend group,” she says, “but my needs are different now. Those years of feeling isolated have passed, and now I find my role as a listener and supporter within the group to be extremely rewarding. I’m grateful to Joyce Stuehringer and the J for starting and sustaining such an important group.”
The Jewish Mothers/Grandmothers Special Needs Support Group meets on the third Thursday of each month, from 7-8:30 p.m., at the J, 3800 E. River Road. Drop-ins are welcome, although Stuehringer recommends newcomers let her know in advance if they plan to attend. Contact her at 299-5920 or firstname.lastname@example.org.