Group offers support for parents of children with special needs

On Thursday at 6:30 p.m, parents of special-needs children will congregate for a meeting of Parents SPEAK, a support group described by founder Peggy Larson as “a chance to get out and meet other parents who are going through difficulties and struggles.”

“Oftentimes, we discuss resources, and what’s available out there,” said Larson. “And oftentimes, we just discuss the frustration we feel.”

Larson said that “SPEAK” is an acronym for “Special Parents Encouraging Amazing Kids.”

“That’s just what we do,” said Larson. “We speak to each other, help each other out with encouragement.”

Larson and her husband are originally from Washington state, where they raised three children, now adults, with special needs. Their oldest son had severe vision problems, another was epileptic and learning disabled, and one daughter had a cleft pallet. In Washington, the Larsons attended a support group for special-needs parents. Moving to Alaska after her children were grown, Larson said she saw a need for a group similar to the one that had helped her. She started Parents SPEAK a year ago.

At some meetings, the group brings in speakers to present information about locally available resources for helping their children.

“We’ve had a speaker from the school district concerning special education programs, we’ve had a speaker from Hope Community Services telling what services they offer in the community,” Larson said.

At other meetings, members simply discuss the experiences and emotions they share with others in similar situations.

“We learned many years ago that parents with special-needs kids speak a different language,” said Larson. “They feel isolated from other families and other people. They are starved for the opportunity to meet other people who understand them, who get it.”

Larson estimates that about 24 families from Kenai and Soldotna have been part of the group since it began.

“A (special needs parent’s) life revolves around their child,” Larson said. “Their everyday life is not the same. When their friends that they’ve had for years ask them ‘what did you do today?’ and the average family’s biggest concern is remodeling the kitchen, for example, while the special-needs parent’s biggest concern is when the next surgery is, or discipline or health issues for their child, when they talk about therapy that their child’s having, or behavior issues that their child is having because of a certain disability… the average family just doesn’t get it. They don’t live that way.”

Parents SPEAK meets monthly at the Kenai River Center. For more information about Parents SPEAK, contact Peggy Larson at


Reach Ben Boettger at

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