MAP Program Ensures Parents of Children with Disabilities Don’t Walk the Road Alone
By Anna Zierfuss, Stone Soup Group, Regional Parent Navigator / MAP Coordinator, Statewide
When the news comes that a child has a special need or disability, a parent can experience many overwhelming emotions. Two of the biggest are isolation and confusion. This is a common experience and can be a period of struggle and grief as families find their way down an unfamiliar road with multiple, confusing signposts and no conductor for the ride. Peer-to-peer support can be a valuable gem in the toolbox of a parent who is walking this road of having a child with different abilities. The Mentor, Advocate, Partner (MAP) Program at Stone Soup Group is an Alaska parent mentoring program that trains experienced, “seasoned” parents of children with special needs and matches them with parents who are new to the road of disabilities or are experiencing a bump in the road. The program started as a grassroots effort more than 40 years ago and has grown to a state and national level. It gives parents someone to talk to and lean on emotionally during challenging times and possibly builds long-term friendships between parents with similar experiences.
The training teaches Mentor Parents how to use person-first language, how to effectively tell their stories, how to utilize active listening skills and provides educational resources for navigating the cyclical nature of grief. At the national level, P2P USA has done research to discover best practices for this support and to act as an aid and booster of the state and local programs.
As a parent of a child that was born premature and was diagnosed with several learning disabilities, I remember the feeling of being alone. There was no one in my network of family or friends to talk with and I was propelled into a world with a new vocabulary full of acronyms, doctor visits, tutoring appointments and school meetings with regulations and laws that were new to me. This experience is one of the reasons I am so passionate about developing the program and helping it to grow.
Because it is a relatively new program, we are constantly recruiting seasoned parents to act as Parent Mentors. We are working hard to get the word out throughout Alaska that this resource has arrived and to provide the assurance that matches can be made in a timely manner so that no parent has to walk this road alone.
Through the Community-Based Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Grant Program, Alaska Children’s Trust is pleased to support efforts like Stone Soup Group’s Mentor, Advocate, Partner (MAP) Program. Stone Soup Group received a 2019 – 2020 grant, which helped expand the program to families in rural Alaska. Learn more about Alaska Children’s Trust’s grant program at alaskachildrenstrust.org.