Parents Help Parents in Family Connection Conference

5:18 PM, Feb 7, 2014   |    comments
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Columbia, SC (WLTX) -- Raising a child can be a challenge, but imagine having a child special needs and not knowing where to turn for help.

That is where Family Connection helps. For 20 years, the group has held an annual conference that allows those who have "been there" to share and help other families and professionals with their experiences.

"She called me on the phone at home and said 'your child has Spina Bifida we suggest you abort her.' I'm like wait a min, I don't even know what Spina Bifida is," said Becky Brown, describing how she first learned of her daughter's birth defect.

Spina Bifida occurs when the spinal column doesn't close all the way.

She knew she could not end her pregnancy, despite those warnings 24 years ago.

"I needed somebody to talk to, and so that's what Family Connection did to me. It helped me have somebody to talk to that understood," said Brown.

She found support, and has attended the group's conference for 20 years. Katie has spoken about her life during previous events, giving hope to others like her and her family.

"I tell them all that stuff so that they can see that even though I have a disability, I can still do most things that everyone else does. I may do it a bit differently but, you know I can still do it," said Katie Brown.

Family Connection's Executive Director Jackie Richards says the conference offers workshops with vendors providing everything from tips on becoming a self advocate, schooling options, and health care.

The conference mixes parents and professionals allowing everyone to share knowledge and experiences.

"Twenty years ago, you know there wasn't a big collaboration around children with disabilities and special health care needs, and Family Connection saw that parents needed to come together to learn from each other so that's why it was birthed. It was birthed from the need from both parents and professionals to get information on resources and supports for families," said Richards.

For Becky Brown, knowing that help was out there and as well as others who knew what she was going through made all the difference.

"We managed, we did it and you find a way, you somehow you just step up and you do it and you help other people that's what saves you," she said

About 500 people attended and volunteered for the two day conference that continues Saturday.

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