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North Haven mom Monica Hatton has applied her experience and commitment to forming the Special Needs Advisory Group, which is dedicated to supporting kids with special needs and their families. (Photo courtesy of Monica Hatton )
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When Monica Hatton moved to North Haven a little over a year ago, she quickly learned the town was missing something when it came to helping special needs children. Wasting little time, Monica began organizing what she would call the Special Needs Advisory Group (SNAG), in hopes of raising awareness across the entire town.
First, Monica approached school administrators to inform them that back in Virginia, where she had lived most recently before her husband was transferred to Connecticut, there was a partnership between the town and the families for special needs children, but she didn’t see that kind of structure in North Haven.
“I told them I would like them to be open to being a partner. If we have a good partnership, communication, and transparency, our kids with special needs can succeed,” Monica says.
Monica found the Board of Education very open to her idea.
“I mentioned to them the resources that were needed to advocate for our families with special needs,” she says. “As a small town, [North Haven] lacked this service.”
Next, Monica created a public presence for SNAG on Facebook, to open public dialogue and outreach. To date, the SNAG Facebook page has more than 360 members, and a few more join each week as more people learn about the program. Here, parents, teachers, and other interested parties can share information and personal experiences about topics related to mental health wellness in children, as well as adults.
“I started meeting more families through the group,” Monica says, noting another special needs mom who said, “Yeah, we need this,” and the two have since become close friends.
Monica also received motivation for the SNAG program from Shannon Jacovino of the Arc of Connecticut, which is committed to protecting the rights of people with intellectual and development disabilities.
Through such efforts, many more town residents are working together to promote opportunities for the full inclusion of those with special needs, especially children, and those without special needs.
“Back in Virginia it’s called the Special Education Advisory Committee, and it’s mostly related to education, and it’s set up as a partnership with the state,” Monica says. “Here I was starting from nothing.”
It was her good relationship with her son’s school that provided the support she needed to get SNAG off the ground.
“They knew I was sincere,” Monica says about the overwhelming support she has received from the town.
Back in Virginia, Monica worked in the special education community as a school paraprofessional, so she had extensive knowledge of what it takes to empower special needs children to believe in themselves.
She also has the self-taught training to help young people, which was born out of necessity. Because of the frequent moves, Monica had to home school her older son, who has autism, and her younger son, who has pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder associated with streptococcal infections (PANDAS) and pediatric acute-onset neuropsychiatric syndrome (PANS) syndrome.
The success of helping her own children gave Monica the desire to give back and help others. Through those earlier efforts, Monica gained the background she needed to spearhead larger community-based programs, for which North Haven is now a beneficiary.
“More and more people have been very supportive, and a lot more parents are getting involved,” Monica says. “I’ve met many great ladies and have become great friends with them, so now I have more co-chairs helping run SNAG, like Amanda Parker Gabrielle, Kristy Huntley, and Keishas Gotison.”
At the end of last year, Monica was able to set up a SNAG committee for the North Haven Parent Teacher Association.
“I want this to be about kindness and inclusion, so that kids without autism or without mental health issues are involved in our activities as well, so they learn about the importance of special education,” Monica says.
While SNAG is a social learning group, it is also a place for sharing personal stories related to mental health experiences and concerns. Once a member joins and is accepted, Monica asks that all members respect privacy and keep sensitive issues within the group. Maintaining this welcoming and safe environment is important, she says.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the operations of SNAG have moved fully online, which makes things a bit of a challenge, but Monica’s determination to help others is unwavering.
“It takes a lot as a parent to make our kids successful, or at least to make them happy,” Monica says. “That’s what I call success for our families, to make [our children] happy. What is it to have a happy life? It doesn’t mean you need to have money or all the services. This is what I try to bring through the SNAG program. It’s not only about support, it’s about happiness.”
For more information about North Haven SNAG, visit its Facebook page or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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