How to Start an ADHD Parent Support Group

Support Group
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When your child has ADHD, the stressors and the uncertainties around parenting issues can quickly grow, leaving a parent to feel unsure, frustrated, overwhelmed — and sometimes quite alone. Connecting with others who understand and have experienced the same challenges can help. Such a group can provide not only that important sense of community and support, but it also provides accurate information and education about ADHD and how to best manage it.

But what is a parent to do if there is not an ADHD support group in his or her area? Susan Collins from Greensboro, N.C. found herself in this situation after her son was diagnosed with ADHD at a young age. "I started asking around if there were any local support groups for parents of children with ADHD," remembers Collins. "The answer was the same -​'No, but that is a great idea! You should start one." And so she did, along with fellow parent Blair Churchill.

The Beginning of the Greensboro Area ADHD Parent Support Group

Collins and Churchill met in the fall of 2007 at a lecture on "Understanding ADHD" given by an area psychiatrist and sponsored by the local hospital, Moses Cone. "I was so encouraged by the room completely full of parents all dealing with similar issues," recalls Collins. "I sat next to Blair and we realized our boys were exactly the same age with ADHD. Sherri McMillen (from the marketing department of Moses Cone Behavioral Health Center) facilitated the presentation that night. After the meeting, Blair and I talked to Sherri about how beneficial it would be to be able to meet with local parents again to share stories, as well as learn information from area professionals." Collins and Churchill met with McMillen in the following weeks and the mission to start a local support group for parents of children with ADHD officially began.

Community Resources to Support the Group

In addition to McMillen at Moses Cone, Collins and Churchill reached out to Dr. Arthur Anastopoulos, founder, and director of the ADHD Clinic at the local university, University of North Carolina-Greensboro. Dr. Anastopoulos, a nationally recognized expert in ADHD and professor in the department of psychology, fully supported the mission of a parent-initiated, parent-directed support group. He offered his professional guidance and signed on as the group's clinical advisor.

Collins and Churchill then met with Brooke Juneau from Family Support Network. Family Support Network of Central Carolina serves families whose children have been diagnosed with a special need or chronic illness, or who have been born prematurely. "They were a fantastic support to us on how to start up a community support group as they assist in several other parenting support groups in the area," explains Collins.

Everything began to come together - a clinical advisor and expert to guide them (Dr. Anastopoulos), assistance on how to start a community support group (through the Family Support Network), and help in marketing and getting the word out about the group (through Moses Cone Behavioral Health). "It was really the perfect pairing of these three community organizations and two moms. Everyone's expertise complimented each other and we all worked together so well," says Collins. "Our planning meetings became something we all looked forward to and strong friendships were formed."

After almost a year of planning, the first community support group meeting was held in September 2008 at a local church, Trinity Church (who continues to graciously provide meeting space for the group free of charge). "Moses Cone supplied fliers promoting the meeting that Blair and I took all over town - to pediatrician's offices, psychologists, schools, grocery stores, libraries, etc.," recalls Collins. "Moses Cone Behavior Health and Family Support Network have quite an extensive email ListServ and they were able to send the flyer out to all the schools in the area, as well as to professional - doctors' offices, psychologists. There were 50 parents that came to our first ever support group and we were thrilled!"

The Focus of the Support Group

The support group meetings are structured beginning with a 30-minute social time with refreshments, then an hour-long presentation by a speaker or panel of ADHD experts, followed by a 30-minute period for questions and answers. Speakers have included local psychologists, developmental pediatricians, psychiatrists, education specialists, representatives from the school system's Exceptional Children program, and even nationally known experts on ADHD. Each support group meeting has a high-quality speaker who is an expert in the field of ADHD.

"I think the professionalism of our group draws many people," says Collins who explains that the focus of the group is to provide evidence-based information about ADHD to parents and caregivers. "We wanted scientific, legitimate information provided by our speakers. There seems to be so much information available via the Internet, etc. that is NOT valid related to ADHD and we wanted a place where parents could get current, accurate information."

Surveying Parents for Topic Interests

Collins and Churchill also developed a survey which was distributed to parents to determine what topics related to ADHD were of interest. The topics for the year were then based on the survey response. Topics covered have included ADHD 101, medication management, parenting strategies, classroom accommodations, school-based interventions, managing transitions, and other difficult home behavior, improving peer relationships, and ADHD in adults.

Collins notes that the look of the group may change over time, but the initial vision has been to continue with a lecture type meeting with Q&A at the end. This format seems to work well, provides ADHD education and is comfortable for new parents. In this setting, no one is 'put on the spot' or made to participate, though parents may certainly choose to participate. The atmosphere is respectful, supportive, welcoming and unintimidating.

"This is a challenging diagnosis and it has been so helpful to meet other parents going through similar journeys. It has made a big difference for all of us to feel supported," says Collins. "Honestly, I think our planets were just aligned perfectly for this group to be formed. I think all these groups - Dr. Anastopoulos and the UNCG ADHD Clinic, Moses Cone Behavioral Health, the Family Support Network, and Trinity Church — saw the need was there for the community and everyone contributed what they could and it just worked."

By Keath Low
 Keath Low, MA, is a therapist and clinical scientist with the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities at the University of North Carolina. She specializes in treatment of ADD/ADHD.