One mom shares her experience of Peer Coaching Circles and explains how, by joining with other parents, autism families can find great support.
Everyone travels on their own path. On my journey, I have moved, overcome, and in vain left some of the pebbles behind. Each path is a path of clearing, reclaiming, and reconnection to oneself.
My distinct child has led me to discover so many good people as well as to face the looks, the comments, and experience the feelings of isolation—as well as exhaustion.
What I would like to share with readers is that, although my path has been marked by challenges and failures, I have discovered the true strength of compassion and empathy. Thanks to other parents who have understood my tearful gaze, my tired traits, and my constant worry of not knowing what tomorrow will hold for my autistic daughter, I have journeyed on. My child has been given many labels and diagnoses, but, to me, she is simply Daphnée.
Discovering Peer Coaching Circles
One of the most powerful discoveries during my parenting journey is the impact of coaching and peer coaching groups. What is the difference between these and the support groups offered by different associations of parents of different children? Well, the approach and techniques for getting people to help each other are completely different.
A coaching circle is a small group of six to 12 circle members plus a facilitator who meet approximately once a month over a period of several months. The format I will describe is based primarily on an approach called Action Learning.
I noticed for a long time that the conversations in support groups often revolved around challenges or problems and, although I felt understood by my peers, I didn’t always feel I was coming back to my home environment with all the tools to help me find solutions. Yes, the mutual care was there, but I needed an extra push that would allow me to move forward. I felt the more traditional group conversation approach did not help my self-confidence, and my sense of empowerment and motivation was often at a standstill.
It wasn’t until I participated in a peer coaching group that I noticed the elements that allowed me to spread my parental wings and move through the many struggles on my path. Here are seven benefits of participating in a peer group coaching circle:
1. Accelerates learning
2. Provides practical experience
3. Helps you solve problems
4. Motivates you
5. Opens doors
6. Helps you be a better peer/coach
7. Provides a supportive community
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Many will say they experience the same positive elements in traditional support groups. For me though, the big difference was learning to listen to others differently in an authentic and non-judgmental way, to appreciate the stories of others and to make positive connections with my reality and my learning. I felt I was able to trust and learn to ask questions that open up possibilities instead of feeling locked into my problems with limited access to resources.
So, what I have gained from these coaching circles that helped me and my family to progress?
1. They’ve helped me to reconcile my career and aspirations with my child’s many needs
2. I make more informed choices about the steps and resources required for my child
3. I’ve eliminated the feeling of guilt at sometimes having to “choose me” to avoid emotionally “going under”
4. I’m finding solutions to help avoid exhaustion
5. I’m creating and trusting the support network I have developed for my child
6. I feel I’ve become a better person through the skills of coaching, support, listening, and open questioning
7. I now feel able to play a part in changing the world by offering coaching circles and teaching the process so more will benefit from it
I sincerely hope that peer coaching circles—also called peer coaching groups or variations such as co-development groups—will be offered by self-help organizations. I truly believe this approach can help us to come out of our “victimhood” and spread our wings for a better future for all.
This article was featured in Issue 112 – Understanding Diagnosis & Disorders