They say Mother knows best, and the Special Moms of Westchester are no exception: Each of the 700-plus members of the Facebook group knows what it’s like to raise a child with special needs. In addition to empowering its members to solicit advice, share stories, and support one another, the group seeks to educate Westchester communities about special needs. We spoke to two of the group’s founders: Susan Kleiman of Armonk, who also created a clothing company for kids with special needs, Ross Daniel Adaptive Apparel Inc.; and Dana DeRuvo Hanner, author of The Ties That Bind: One Family’s Journey of Compassion with a Special Needs Child.
How did Special Moms of Westchester get started?
SK: Dana and I both have sons who go to The Center for Discovery [a treatment center for children and adults with disabilities in Harris, New York], so we see each other there a lot. We were just having a conversation, saying there’s nothing here in the Westchester area, and it just snowballed.
DDH: It started with an idea and a need—it was two years ago in April that we started it. Before the Facebook group, it was just informal, with moms talking mostly one-on-one. But this really formalized it, where we could literally reach hundreds.
How do members mostly use the Facebook group?
DDH: Moms are constantly asking simple questions, like where to go get their child’s hair cut if their child has sensory issues, or about schools, camps, doctors, or diets. It’s mostly like, ‘What’s a good ophthalmologist who deals with autistic kids?’ We usually get anywhere from five to 10 comments or suggestions.
Do you feel that there’s a lack of resources in Westchester for children with special needs—and their parents?
DDH: It’s not so much that there aren’t programs available; it’s just having it in one centralized place, or knowing that a mother already used this certain camp or school or medication and got a referral from another mother that said, ‘Yes, my child was there at this camp and had great success with it.’ Moms trust moms.
SK: Moms are the best resources. They really are.
Is the group only for women or can ‘special dads’ join, too?
DDH: We try to limit it to mostly moms, but we do have dads in there. Most of us are professional, working-outside-of-the-home moms.
What are some things the group has been involved in outside of Facebook?
SK: Three to four times a year, when we can, we get a speaker and rent out a restaurant and make it a Moms’ Night Out with information, and people really enjoy that, getting away.
DDH: We’ve had speakers like Paul Feiner, the Greenburgh town supervisor, and former Greenburgh Police Chief Joe DeCarlo, and they got to learn what mothers, especially of autistic children, need from the police department.
Do you think there’s been improvement in public awareness of special needs?
SK: I remember when my son was born in 1993, I had to find out everything by myself. I didn’t have any help at all—even the doctors weren’t all that helpful. I really feel it’s come a long way because of the Internet.
What’s next for Special Moms?
DDH: We’re only as strong as our resources, as our members, because there’s always something to add. We now have more than 650 members, and it’s not just Westchester anymore—it’s more the tri-state area. We also started the Special Sibs group so the siblings of special needs children can have a voice, too.