"One of the hardest parts of having a special needs child can be the loneliness and isolation," says Jennifer Byde Myers. "If you can't find the community you need, build it."
And build it she has. In 2007, with her friend Shannon DesRoches Rosa, Jennifer helped co-found the Special Education Parent Teacher Association for Redwood City, where she currently serves as president. In addition to educational meetings, SEPTAR hosts support groups, manages an art program that brings students of different abilities together to create collaboratively, and provides micro-grants to teachers to use for special projects, supplies or training.
Jennifer and Shannon have also collaborated as authors, publishing three books together, including "The Thinking Person's Guide to Autism," which was released this summer. "We've tried to put all of the information together that we would have wanted when our children were first diagnosed," Jennifer explains.
With that book, Shannon and Jennifer also maintain a website under the same name, designed to be both an informational center and a community. "There are more people out there than you think," says Jennifer. "And they're sitting at home waiting to have a friend to get a coffee with, too."
I recommend that Bay Area families check out... all of the great parks and trails that are hidden in and around our cities; most of them are free, with at least some accessible accommodation.
Nothing makes me laugh like... my family. Humor is very important in our family, it's cultivated and praised. And I love that somehow everyone knows that my non-verbal son has a great sense of humor; he always "gets the joke."
My favorite indulgence is... champagne and late night conversation.
The best parenting trick I've discovered is... saying only the words that you want your children to hear. Instead of "Quit yelling!" I try to say, "Quiet voices!"
The best part of having a child with special needs is... the other children and families we've met. Our community is so amazing, and the depth of character in my friends is remarkable.
The toughest part is... remembering to have fun.
One of my proudest parenting moments (so far) is... taking our kids across the country last summer. We showed them as many national and state parks as we could squeeze in, and seeing my kids recognize those places later on television and in books was very cool.
Looking for a good book? I totally recommend... "The Thinking Person's Guide to Autism"—is that too self-promotional? It really is a great book. I was really moved by Wallace Stegner's "Crossing to Safety."
The best thing about starting "The Thinking Person's Guide to Autism" has been... the personal emails I've received from parents and adults with autism saying their lives are better for having read something on the site.
Hardly anybody knows I... would love to have lived in the 1850s: exploration, wagon trains, homesteading. Sounds crazy but I actually like growing our own food and canning. We've made all sorts of things, jam, pickles...
Right now, my favorite song is... Pink, "Perfect." I like the lines "You're so mean when you talk about yourself; you were wrong. Change the voices in your head; make them like you instead." If we can get that through to our kids, they will be stronger.
I can't live without... my husband. It might sound cliché, but we really are a great team. And though I'd like to think I can get by without it, a good wi-fi connection and my smart phone make life much easier.
The best decision I ever made was... to go to U.C. Berkeley. I met my husband in Berkeley and launched a great career at Gap Inc. (headquartered in San Francisco). I feel like I would have missed a whole world if I had stayed in Southern California for college.
If you told me 10 years ago where I am today, I'd be surprised that... I drove a mini-van. Really? A beige mini-van? With beige interior?
What do you know now about parenting a child with special needs that you wish you'd known from the start? It's all going to be okay—or it isn't—but fretting about everything all the time isn't good for anyone.
My philosophy is... if you ever wonder whether you are a good mom, you are; bad moms never wonder.