Belinda Patel’s son was diagnosed with autism around the age of three, and she remembers the overwhelming feelings of simply not knowing what to do next. Someone gave her the name and contact information of a support parent, and when Belinda called her, they talked frequently at length and even had playdates.

“I hope there are parents who look back years from now and are glad they had a support parent. I hope I am making a difference.  I hope maybe I have inspired someone else to become a support parent.  I feel that we are a community, and that we can go further together. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be part of the Family Connection community.”

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“It was a big help having someone to talk with then,” she said. “Later, when my son was in occupational therapy, I met and became friends with another mom and she told me about the Family Connection training event. She and I both attended, and that was maybe about 10 or 11 years ago.”

Over the years, Belinda has talked with many parents whose kids were recently diagnosed, and some of those parents have even become good friends of hers. “I love helping other families, even if it only involves just being there for them to talk with and vent to, having someone who maybe understands what they’re going through. There are so many emotions when a child is diagnosed, and so many questions. I know that even now, when meeting another mom with a child with the same diagnosis, you just feel this instant connection. It can feel very lonely when you have a child with special needs, even if you have lots of family and friends who are supportive. You just don’t feel like anyone else truly understands. I want to help other families to feel like they aren’t alone. I try to think of how I felt and what was helpful for me.”

For Belinda, being a volunteer support parent with Family Connection gives her the opportunity to do something good for others.

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“You might think you don’t have time to help others because your plate is full, but honestly, helping others feels therapeutic for me. It just feels good. It doesn’t take that long to have a conversation on the phone, or email. Some calls are short, but some are very long,” she said. “I try to make sure I’ll have lots of time when I call, in case they need to talk a while.”

Belinda’s son is 20 now, and attends a local university. “It’s been an interesting journey, and I am still learning. He has taught me so much!”

The journey with her son has allowed her to connect with families not only locally in the upstate area, but statewide as well.