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Helping Families Make Connections: Reciprocal Learning Communities

By Abby Braithwaite

It’s been a busy summer for the NWDSA’s New Parent Outreach, with new faces at Open Arms each month, and many new families enjoying the shade at the Summer Social at Lee Farms. We love meeting all the new babies, and it’s a joy to watch parents find their footing on this journey, connecting with other parents and sharing stories.

With so much information available in books and online, it can be tough to find the most up-to-date, strength-based information on Down syndrome, and what we can do to help our kids navigate this world. The NWDSA helps families gain access to the best resources through the New Parent Guide, Open Arms Playgroups and our phone line, but the most comprehensive tool that we have is the Reciprocal Learning Community (RLC).

One of the most important things we can do as parents is to understand the importance of partnering with the professionals who work with our children. We are our kids’ first teachers, and most consistent therapists, and the RLC is a great place to access the best, newest information.

RLC events are targeted for families with children 0-5 with Down syndrome; in addition to being a great place to gather information, they are also an excellent opportunity to meet other families in the community who are on similar paths.

Parents, with the assistance of an advisory board of professionals, choose the topics and plan each session. All of our sessions are research-based and utilize best practices. Each session features Spanish translation. Concurrent childcare sessions, run by qualified professionals with the help of volunteers, provide activities for our children that are relevant to that session’s content. Fathers have been very involved in the sessions due in large part to the fact that the sessions run on Saturday mornings. Each RLC concludes with a catered lunch and time to network with presenters and other families or professionals. Sessions, childcare and lunch are all provided free of charge for participants.

Previous topics have included nutrition, behavior, literacy, the father’s perspective, person-centered planning, and more. The sessions are interactive, and parents ask questions, provide feedback and get involved.

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