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Monica Hatton’s new Special Needs Advocacy Group (SNAG) is a public resource on Facebook for parents of children with intellectual or developmental disabilities. (Photo by Nathan Hughart/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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Monica Hatton says that the best way for families of children with special needs to succeed is to understand their weaknesses.
“Because I’m aware of my weaknesses, I’m stronger,” she says.
Though she’s relatively new to town, Monica is working to connect families like hers with the services she needs.
At the Board of Education’s May 9 meeting, Monica presented the Special Needs Advocacy Group (SNAG), a Facebook group for parents of special needs children looking to share information and find support as well as advocate for legislation.
“It’s the motivation of getting a partnership in the town, getting families together, getting our teachers together, getting good communication, partnering with our legislatures,” she says. “By [word of] mouth, we can find solutions.”
Finding these services, and making the connections she hopes to make with SNAG, is important for the kids, she says.
“We say a lot, for normal kids, we need a village to raise a kid. For us…we need the whole town, the whole state, the whole government,” she says. “Without all the support, my kid would probably be dead.”
Services for children with special needs are available, but often there is a lack of communication between service providers and families, says Monica, who wants to connect people who need help with the people who can help them.
As someone with ADHD and depression, she says she knows how important it is to make those connections both for herself, and for her two sons who struggle with autism and anxiety, respectively.
“I wanted [my kids] to know that it’s okay to feel weak sometimes, but you need to know when you are strong,” Monica says.
Self-advocacy, she says, is the best way to survive as a parent of children with special needs. It’s something she learned firsthand while raising her kids in Virginia.
“You need to empower yourself…When you see where your strength is, you can move forward,” she says.
A self-described foreigner, born in Colombia and raised in France, Monica spoke English but says she still felt weak when she was living in Virginia.
Back then, she expected the school system to tell her what she needed to do for her children, like many parents.
“When I found out that the services were in town and the providers were not communicating, that’s when I got the idea. Let me connect them, let them share the information,” she says. “With Facebook, it became a lot easier.”
It took a crisis to get her son with autism the services he needed. At the height of his crisis, when Monica’s son was at risk of suicide, the professionals offered to take him in for intensive care, but she knew that wasn’t what would be best for him.
“[You have to] explain the truth, let them know what is real,” Monica says.
That’s when they sent an in-home therapist to help Monica instead. She says that the woman they sent saved her family and inspired her to self-advocate.
The therapist told Monica that her services are usually only obtained after a hospital visit, contrary to the spirit of preventative services. Together, she and Monica wrote a letter to advocate for a change in the way these services are applied.
Monica’s husband, Denny, works for the federal government and the family often has to move. They came to North Haven a year ago and she was again left looking for help. Her experience allowed her to get established much more quickly.
“Until I was 21, I couldn’t even talk to somebody to ask for the time,” she says. “I’m not shy anymore…We can self-advocate.”
With her family moving around a lot, her ability to self-advocate is important every time she comes to a new town.
“I still feel lost and alone every time that I move,” she says. “You need to find a place to go, where to ask questions.”
Still, relocating has taught Monica where to go and who to call for services. Having to learn a new system has made it easier for Monica to help local parents connect to the services they need.
“For me, restarting, connecting the services…was easier than other typical families because I’m used to research,” she says. “But it’s tiring, it’s still difficult.”
She started with SNAG by sharing her knowledge with friends in town in similar situations who were surprised at Monica’s knowledge after so little time and joining other autism support groups in the area. Soon, she decided she wanted to do more to connect families and decided Facebook was a good way to do it.
“If we do not have a voice, we cannot progress,” she says.
To nominate a Person of the Week, email Nathan Hughart at n.hughart@Zip06.com.
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