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Group offers valuable help to parents of special-needs children

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Shelly Birkelo
Monday, October 1, 2012

— Brianna Kuelz wanted to get involved in a support group for parents of autistic children for a long time.

She got that opportunity when Family Respite Care Services, CESA 2 TLC Rock County's Birth to 3 Program and Mercy Options Autism Program collaborated to start Café Connections on Sept. 22 at Emmanuel Church, 4224 Whilden Court.

What she experienced was so exciting she could barely wait to go back the next Saturday.

"There were specific activities with structure and somebody to facilitate,'' she said of the Parents Café, one of three simultaneous activities between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. six consecutive Saturdays where parents can get to know other parents while their kids are involved in other safe, supervised activities.

"I think Cafe Connections is fantastic," said Kuelz, who has two children—a son, 7, and a daughter, 5—with autism.

"Cafe Connections is an opportunity for parents to connect and get the support they need while taking care of a child with special needs," said Whitney Walraven, executive director of Family Respite Care Services.

Walraven said there is a need for Cafe Connections.

"Family Respite Care Services was contacted by families earlier this year asking if there was a support group for them. They expressed the need to communicate and connect with other families going through the same thing," Walraven said.

That doesn't surprise Kuelz.

"When you have a child with autism, it feels very isolating. Just knowing there are other people in your community experiencing the same things you do every day takes a bit of weight off your shoulders. It's just very comforting to be in group of people who really, truly get it," Kuelz said.

Walraven said the goal of Cafe Connections is to empower participants so they leave with better ideas of how to take care of themselves, seek help, make connections within and outside of the group and receive support from each other.

To have a bigger network of people you can go to is so beneficial, said Kuelz, who already is reaching out and asking other parents if they have dealt with certain situations.

While Kuelz attended Parent Café, her children participated in the Kids' Camp that has supervised recreation.

"They had a great time," she said.

Kuelz said it was fantastic not to have to try and coordinate care for them somewhere else.

"Our resources already are limited to the people available (who are) equipped to take care of them," she said.

Cafe Connections is taking off quickly after 15 parents enrolled in the Parent Café, 12 children in Kids' Camp and eight kids in the Social Skills Group the first week, Walraven said.

Those numbers, respectively, grew to 18, 20 and seven the second week, she said.

"I think this is the start of something great," said Angie Levine of Mercy Options.

Kuelz agreed: "I can't say enough about having resources here in this area. We find so many opportunities for our kids in the Dane County/Madison area, but it gets old to have to drive them there. This is a fantastic thing to have right here in Janesville."


Parent Café, a supportive parent experience—This free event helps parents as they navigate the challenges of raising a child with special needs. Parents connect with each other in a safe, structured atmosphere while their kids participate in one of the activities listed below. This café session is held on consecutive Saturdays through Oct. 27 and teaches parents how to take care of themselves, strengthen themselves as parents and build strong relationships with their children. The café was made possible through a $900 CESA foundation grant.

Social Skills Group for kids to make friends—Mercy Options Autism Program leads this group, which focuses on improving social skills. Children and teens with social difficulties have a chance to build relationships and learn skills necessary to succeed in the social world. Cost is $150 for a six-week session. Participants must register by calling 608-756-5555, ext. 8313.

Kids' Camp, a supervised recreational place—Family Respite Care Services, a local agency, will provide therapeutic recreation for children during the Parent Café. It is open to children of Parent Café participants and siblings of Social Skills Group participants.


Last updated: 4:55 pm Tuesday, August 27, 2013

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